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Three alternative accounts of subject omission, pragmatic, processing and grammatical, are considered from the perspective of child Danish. Longitudinal data for two Danish children are analyzed for subject omission, finite and infinitival verb usage and discourse anchorage of sentence subjects (overt and missing). The data exhibit a well-defined phase of subject omission which coincides with a well-defined phase of infinitival verbal utterances. No evidence is found for input driven accounts of subject omission. Danish adults rarely omit subjects from utterance initial position. Neither is there any evidence to support the claim that omitted subjects are anchored in previous discourse. Evidence supporting a processing constraint explanation of missing subjects is equivocal. The pattern of subject omission, infinitival usage and third person pronoun and past tense usage points to a grammatical explanation of the phenomenon. However, current grammatical accounts have difficulty accommodating several aspects of the data reported. Contrary to structure building theories, the Danish children do not exhibit a phase of development where only uninflected verb forms are used. Danish children also omit subjects from finite utterances. Furthermore, the decline of subject omissions in finite utterances coincides with decline in usage of infinitival utterances. These findings challenge tense-based accounts of children's subject omission. Finally, Danish children exhibit an asymmetry in subject omission according to verb type; subjects are omitted from main verb utterances more frequently than from copula utterances. Given the language typology associated with Danish, this asymmetry is difficult to accommodate within truncation and tense or number-based accounts of subject omission. We suggest that a proper treatment of child subject omission will involve an integration of grammatical and discourse-based approaches.


Journal article



Publication Date





35 - 72


Child, Child Development, Child, Preschool, Denmark, Female, Humans, Infant, Language Disorders, Longitudinal Studies, Male, Psycholinguistics