Young children often insert 'fillers' in their first multiwordutterances: vocalizations that do not correspond to conventional words. For instance, it is hard to determine the meaning of the syllables [m] and [\] in utterance (a). Fillers often have the shape of a syllabic nasal or a schwa, as in utterances (a) and (b). But sometimes they consist of several syllables, as in utterance (c).
(a) [m] pick ['] flowers (English learning boy, age 1;6; from Peters and Menn, 1993)
(b) ['] oiseau ['] vole (Frensh learning girl, age 1; from Veneziano and Sinclair, 2000)
(c) [lala] open door (English learning girl, age 1;10; from Feldman and Menn, 2003)
Fillers typically occur at positions that are occupied by function morphemes in the adult language (like articles or pronouns). They are instantiations of an important language learning mechanism that has only recently been recognized as such: 'form-driven' learning. 'Form-driven' learning entails that the child first acquires the form, and gets full grips on the meaning and function of this form only later on. In other words, the child has discovered sound material at particular positions in the input, but has not yet analyzed the form and the function of this material accurately. Nevertheless, the child tries to integrate these elements in her own speech utterances. Little by little the child discovers the full distribution, function and shape of what turns out to be function morphemes. This learning mechanism contrasts with function-driven acquisition, as is proposed by nativist theories: morphosyntactic acquisition is interpreted as a self-unfolding plan of morphosyntactic functions that need to be stuffed with lexical material.
Until now, fillers in Dutch child language have not yet been studied (except in the limited analysis of Wijnen et al., 1994). The aim of this research project is to investigate the role of fillers in the acquisition of Dutch, and to analyze the mechanism of 'form-driven' learning from a constructivist perspective on language acquisition.