Clitic pronouns have been one of the most researched topics in the field of Romance languages linguistics, and more studies are constantly being published, adding new theoretical insights. But there is still no account that presents a unified description of the phenomenon of cliticisation, nor is there consensus regarding the syntactic status of clitics and on what accounts for their position at spell-out. This dissertation examines a number of proposals to explain clitic placement, and discusses theoretical evidence in support of a movement approach. It then explores some syntactic phenomena, such as clitic doubling, clitic climbing and clitic clusters, in order to present a unified proposal to account for the syntactic behaviour of clitics. It proposes that the interplay between Case Assignment, Animacy and Feature Checking could explain these phenomena, usually analysed in isolation from one another.
The main aim of this dissertation is to breach the gap between the theoretical and the empirical studies of cliticisation, trying to provide a link between our theoretical insights through the examination of first language acquisition data. Given that the clitic pronominal system in Spanish is subject to rigid syntactic constraints, this dissertation investigates the way in which young children acquire clitics pronouns. In particular, it examines whether children ever make mistakes that suggest discontinuity between child and adult Spanish, and whether the mistakes children make can be used as evidence to decide between competing syntactic theories.
This dissertation shows that from the earliest testable age children have the grammatical competence for clitic placement, and never make certain logical, but unattested, mistakes. Evidence for this claim is sought by experimentally studying children's responses to a number of constructions involving chtic, using the elicited imitation technique and corroborating the findings with spontaneous speech data. References are also made to the differing acquisition routes taken by native children acquiring Spanish on the one hand and bilingual and adult learners of Spanish on the other. The data seem to indicate that first and second language acquisition processes are fundamentally different.