Elizabeth Tobyn

Elizabeth Tobyn

Email: elizabeth.tobyn@manchester.ac.uk
Website: https://research.manchester.ac.uk/en/persons/elizabeth.tobyn-2

Thesis Title

The Acquisition of Unaccusativity on Evidence from Early and Late Dialect-Italian Bilinguals


The University of Manchester


Prof Delia Bentley
Dr Andrea Nini

Research Summary

My research project concerns unaccusativity/split intransitivity, which refers to the hypothesis that intransitive verbs do not constitute a homogeneous class of verbs but rather two distinct subclasses: unergatives and unaccusatives (Perlmutter, 1978). While unaccusativity manifests itself in different ways across languages, auxiliary selection for the formation of the periphrastic past tense has often been identified as one of the main – and perhaps the most obvious – diagnostics for unaccusativity in Italian and other Romance languages, as well as some Germanic ones.

From this perspective, Italian is considered the most conservative language as it has retained the original late Latin/early Romance distinction between auxiliary verbs HAVE and BE (Cennamo, 2008); indeed, Italian unaccusatives select BE, while unergatives select HAVE. However, not all Italo-Romance languages display the same auxiliation system as standard Italian. In fact, some languages of Italy do not exhibit a split auxiliation system at all: in Southern Lazio, for instance, some dialects are BE-only systems (Cordin, 1997, in Maiden and Parry, 1997). Conversely, in Sicilian (e.g., Palermitano), perfective BE has been ousted from the system and HAVE is the sole perfect operator (Leone, 1995). Nonetheless, there are dialects that do not differ from Italian in terms of auxiliary selection: Sienese, for instance, appears to be the Tuscan variety least distant from the national language (Giannelli, 1998).

I am interested in investigating how auxiliary selection with unaccusative verbs is acquired by individuals who are bilingual speakers of Italian and a dialect whose auxiliation system differs from Italian. In particular, I am working with Palermitano, a HAVE-only language, and Sienese, which exhibits the same auxiliation system as Italian and will be used to compare the results obtained from the Palermo data. I am also interested in determining whether there are any differences between speakers who have acquired both Italian and the dialect since they were born (simultaneous bilinguals), and those who started acquiring Italian later in life (consecutive bilinguals).

Research Interests

Language acquisition,
Syntax-semantics interface,
languages of Italy
and romance.


June 2023 – “The selection of HAVE with verbs expressing non-quantized change in Palermo” – Wroclaw Meetings of Young Philologists

April 2023 – “Auxiliary Selection with verbs of indefinite change in dialect-Italian Bilinguals” – Manchester Forum in Linguistics (MFiL)

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