The interpretation of multiple embedded genitive constructions by Wapichana and English speakers

Wendy Mary Leandro, Luiz Amaral


While research on Amazonian languages shows controversial data about the universality of recursive structures, researchers in language acquisition with Indo-European and East Asian languages have shown that complex recursive constructions are acquired very early by children. This study contributes to both debates about recursive structures in indigenous languages and the acquisition of recursion by children. We tested the comprehension of multiple embedded genitive constructions in Wapichana and English to answer two distinct questions: (1) Does the Wapichana grammar accept recursive genitives? (2) If yes, do Wapichana children acquire the multiple embedded genitives at a similar rate as English speaking children? Our data show that the interpretation of recursive genitives in English and Wapichana by adult speakers is exactly the same. Moreover, we show that both groups of children acquire multiple embedded genitives very early, but only achieve adult performance after the age of seven.

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