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Issue. Claim: acquisition of discourse integration is an extended process Even up to 6 yrs of age children may fail in correct discourse-linking: Pronouns Definite articles Tense (Karmiloff-Smith 1981; Avrutin 1999; & others). But….

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Issue

  • Claim: acquisition of discourse integration is an extended process

  • Even up to 6 yrs of age children may fail in correct discourse-linking:

    • Pronouns

    • Definite articles

    • Tense(Karmiloff-Smith 1981; Avrutin 1999; & others)


But…

  • In ordinary everyday language use, children do no seem to have much trouble with phrases that rely on discourse integration, notably ellipses, neither in production nor comprehension.


Examples (Sarah corpus)

*CHI: I drink it all up .

*CHI: give me some more .

*CHI: a lot .

*MOT: I don't see any more .

*CHI: yes you do .

*MOT: want a little milk ?

*MOT: want some ?

*CHI: (a)n(d) shake it all up .

*CHI: a bigger one ?

*MOT: mmhm .


Question

  • How do children understand such expressions?


Proposals

  • Heavy reliance on discourse context (nonverbal and visual information)

    • discourse context dominates syntax

  • Children are in fact capable of reconstructing ellipsis

    • syntax dominates discourse context


Our hypothesis

  • Ellipsis reconstruction, and, hence, discourse linking through ellipsis, is a very early attainment in language acquisition.

  • Reason: ellipsis reconstruction depends on syntactic configuration (in contrast to discourse anaphors such as pronominals and determiners).

  • Syntax is (very) early and can support the interpretation of ellipsis.


Hypothesis:

The acquisition of ellipsis should simply follow in the footsteps of the initial acquisition of grammar. As each new level is constructed, the child can construct a parallel level in silence.


Aims

  • To show that children understand ellipsis at an early age

  • To show that they do so by linguistic reconstruction, not deixis or, more generally, reliance on (nonverbal) context.


Means

  • Three experiments probing children’s understanding of nominal ellipsis

    • preferential looking (English)[NPsome ___ ]

    • Sentence-picture matching task (English and Dutch)[NPtwo ___ ]

    • Truth-value judgment task (Dutch)[NPtwo ___ ] & effect of there-insertion


Experiment 1(Jones, Hirsh-Pasek & Roeper, in preparation)

  • Can young children infer the object of noun phrase ellipsis?

  • Subjects: 18 3-year-olds, range = 36.00 - 46.99 months, M = 40.78

  • Procedure:

    • Two labeled transitive action sequences, each followed by one test trial

    • Participants asked to point to the video clip best representing the noun phrase elliptical sentence.

  • Conditions counterbalanced for target order


“John has socks”

Can you find: “John wants to eat some.”

“Kate is cooking pancakes.”

Can you find: “John wants some.”


Experiment 1: Results

  • Initial analyses show that 3-year-olds pointed to the target action 77.78% of the time, a result significantly different from chance, t(17) = 3.82, p = .001.

  • No effects of gender or target order.

  • Tentative conclusion:3-year-olds reconstruct the missing element in the elliptic expression ‘some __’.


Experiment 2(Wijnen, Roeper & Van der Meulen, 2004)

  • Participants:

    • 28 American English-speaking children; mean age 53.6 months (4:6, range 40-69)

    • 47 Dutch-speaking children, mean age 41.5 months (3;6, range 28-57)

  • Task: sentence-picture verification

  • Materials

    • 15 short stories, ending in pertinent questions, combined with different pictures


Adjunct mism.

Control

Arg+Adj mism.


Reconstruction

Some kids are playing in the sandbox.

Are two upside down?

Two = two [kids]ARG [in the sandbox]ADJ


Experiment 2 - Results


Experiment 2 - conclusion

  • Results indicate adequate discourse integration.

  • Reconstruction appears to take place (cf. difference control/mismatch conditions)

    • This is syntactic integration

  • Question:Difference Eng-Du ~ related to “er/there”?


There ~ Er

  • Eng: Some kids are in the sandbox.Are two upside down?

  • Du: Er spelen kinderen in de zandbak.Staan er twee op hun kop?

  • function of er~there:

    • expletive/existential, or contrastive

    • contrastive ‘there’  the bare cardinal will be taken to denote a parallel (contrast) set, I.e., “two girls somewhere else”

    • possibly: contrastive function is acquired earlier than expletive/existential function


Experiment 3

  • Aims

    • Replicate previous results with a better design and slightly different procedure.

    • Test the er/there-effect without the language confound.


Experiment 3 - method

  • Participants: 26 Dutch-speaking children, mean age 4;6 (range 3-6)

  • Procedure:

    • Truth-value judgment (sentence-picture verification); children were instructed to help a girl robot ‘learn to speak’

  • Materials:

    • 12 stories, paired with different pictures to instantiate 4 conditions.


Control

Arg. mismatch

Adj. mismatch

Arg. + Adj. Mm

Drie jongens spelen in de zandbak, en twee zitten [ER] op een emmertje.


Experiment 3: expectations

  • Control

    • –ER : yes+ER: mixed (both subset [full reconstruction] and parallel set [no adj reconstr] reading are o.k.)

  • Argument mismatch

    • no, both in +ER and –ER

  • Adjunct mismatch

    • –ER no+ER mixed (yes certainly possible)

  • A+A mismatch

    • no, both in +ER and –ER‘yes’ only possible through deixis: ‘two [anything] [anywhere]’


Experiment 3: results

  • 5+ year-olds have a very strong preference for ‘yes’ answers across the board

  • we present results of 3-4 yr. olds only


Experiment 3: Results –ER


Experiment 3 Summary of –ER results

  • ‘yes’ preference is quite strong (task effect?)

  • Control vs. Arg+Adj-mismatch

    • Clear difference as expected

  • Control vs. Adjunct mismatch

    • smaller difference

  • Control vs. Argument mismatch

    • Hardly any difference  possibly a materials artefact


Experiment 3: Results +ER


Experiment 3Summary of +ER results

  • Control vs. Adjunct mismatch

    • in line with expectation; ‘er’ makes ‘parallel’ interpration (i.e., contrast) more acceptable, and suppresses the acceptability of full reconstruction interpretation

  • Control vs. A+A mismatch

    • as expected

  • Control vs. Argument mismatch

    • unexpected; possibly a materials artefact


Experiment 3: –ER vs +ER


Experiment 3 - Conclusion

  • Control–A+A-mismatch difference supports the idea that children reconstruct.

  • But the difference between Control and partial mismatch conditions is less clearcut.

    • arg.mismatch results may be artefactual.

  • The effect of +/-ER is marked – including ‘er’ renders the full reconstruction interpretation (control cond.) less acceptable, and favors contrastive interpretations.


General conclusions

  • Results suggest that children are capable of reconstruction.

  • However, the percentage ‘yes’ responses does not drop to zero in the (partial) mismatch conditions  ‘deictic leakage’

  • Young children are sensitive to the interpretive effects of er/there.

    • There is (predominantly) contrastive (cf. differences between younger and older children). It blocks syntactic reconstruction of the original locative. This corroborates our syntactic reconstruction account.


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