Language acquisition and diglossia

In a current article published this year in Frontiers in Communication, (Grohmann, Papadopoulou, and Themistocleous 2017), we investigated the development of object clitic placement by children acquiring Cypriot Greek. Greek-speaking Cyprus is sociolinguistically characterized by diglossia between two varieties of Greek, the local Cypriot Greek and the official Standard Modern Greek. Because of the effects of these two varieties, clitics may be placed postverbally (enclisis) or preverbally (proclisis) in the same syntactic environment: the former is a property of Cypriot Greek and the latter is typically considered an effect of Standard Modern Greek. In the study, we investigated (a) how such bilectal speakers distinguish between the two Greek varieties with respect to clitic placement; (b) how the acquisition of clitics develops over time; (c) how, and which, sociolinguistic factors determine clitic placement; and (d) how schooling may affect clitic placement. To this purpose, a sentence completion task was used to elicit clitic productions, administered to 431 children around Cyprus ranging from 2 years 8 months to 8 years 11 months. The data were analyzed using the C5.0 machine-learning algorithm. The study provides a computational model of the interaction of (socio-)linguistic factors on the development of clitic placement, which shows that speakers acquire the relevant features very early, yet compartmentalization of form and function according to style emerges only as they engage in the larger speech community. In addition, the effects of sociolinguistic factors on clitic placement appear gradually.