Forsythe & Schmitt (2019) – Considering the whole paradigm: Preschoolers’ comprehension of agreement is not uniformly late

Considering the whole paradigm: Preschoolers’ comprehension of agreement is not uniformly late
Hannah Forsythe, Cristina Cristina Schmitt
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August 2019
Picture-selection studies testing the comprehension of subject-verb agreement across a wide variety of languages have found that children fail to use these markers to infer the cardinality of a null or masked subject, even long after spontaneous production of agreement becomes adult-like (Johnson et al. 2005, Pérez-Leroux 2005, Gxilishe et al. 2009, Rastegar et al., 2010). This production/comprehension asymmetry has since been called into question by researchers using more sensitive comprehension measures (Brandt-Kobele and Höhle 2010, Legendre et al. 2014, Verhagen & Blom 2014, González-Gómez et al. 2017). Here, we continue to use a picture selection task but expand our focus to include 1st and 2nd person markers, which are more phonologically salient and less complex to interpret than 3rd person markers. We find that preschoolers comprehend Spanish 1st and 2nd person agreement markers early (2;3-2;11) and just as accurately as clitic pronouns, showing that comprehension of agreement is not uniformly difficult. In the 3rd person, accuracy was low not only for agreement but also for clitics, and both adults and children allowed these expressions to refer to a prominent referent from the immediately preceding discourse—even if that referent was the speaker or hearer. We argue that the production/comprehension asymmetry originally observed for 3rd person agreement was driven not just by task demands but also by children’s sensitivity to the discourse dependence of 3rd person referring expressions. Future experimental investigations of agreement markers should take their discourse properties into account.

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Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/004883
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Published in: submitted
keywords: verbal morphology, clitics, discourse prominence, spanish, phi-features, person features, number features, syntax, phonology, semantics, morphology