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A methodological problem of language acquisition studies

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A methodological problem of language acquisition studies

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  1. A methodologicalproblemof languageacquisitionstudies Katalin É. Kiss, Lilla Pintér, Tamás Zétényi Research Institute forLinguistics of theHungarianAcademy of Sciences This research was supported by grant 108951 of OTKA, the National Science Research Foundation

  2. Claim: Preschoolers’ apparentdifficultieswithquantifierinterpretationarisefrommethodologicalproblems, and provide no evidence of immaturelinguisticcompetence.

  3. The reasonfortheunexpectedreaction: • theiconicity of thevisualrepresentation, • orthe test situationitself, whichmayinducethechildtointerpretthestimuliasostensivecommunication.

  4. Ostension is a notion of the Relevance Theory of Sperber and Wilson (1986). Ostensive communication provides information • changing the listener’s cognitive state, and • communicating that the first layer of information is presented intentionally. The ostensive nature of the stimulus signals high relevanceto the addressee.

  5. Csibra & Gergely (2009), Butler & Markman (2014), basedonSperber & Wilson’s (1986) RelevanceTheory: Childrenareespeciallysensitivetoostensivesignals, and encodethecontent of ostensivecommunicationasrelevantepisodicinformationorasgeneralizableknowledge.

  6. Twocasestudies, and twoways of eliminatingtheostensioneffect: • Quantifierspreading • The interpretation of numerals

  7. QuantifierSpreading1. Classic spreading Is every girl riding a bicycle? No, not that one.

  8. Explanation 1: QS is quantification over (sub)events(Philip 1995) Is everygirlriding a bicycle? = ‘Is everysubevent an event of a girlriding a bicycle?’ Counter-evidence: QSinnon-eventivesentences: Is everygirl a bicyclerider? No, notthatone.

  9. Explanation 2:QS is a parsingproblemrepairedbypragmatics (Drozd 2001, Geurts 2003): Childrentreatuniversalsasiftheywere weakquantifierswith no fixed domain. Theysupplythedomain of quantificationpragmatically. Replacing (b) with (c): • Everygirl is ridinga bicycle. • [ x: girl(x)] <every> [y: bicycle(y), x rides y] c.[ ... : ... ] <every> [x, y: girl(x), bicycle(y), x rides y]

  10. Explanation 3:Relevance Account (Philip 2011): Universal quantificationtriggersexhaustiveenumerationverification, whichactivatessymmetricalpatternrecognition. The missingobjectspoilingsymmetry is salientforthechild, whoimaginesitto be existent.

  11. An observationnotexplainedbyanytheory:The frequency of QScan be changedbymanipulatingthepragmaticconditions: Richervisualorlinguisticcontext (e.g., more thanone extra object) or a backgrounded extra objectmayreduceQS. Both increasingthenumber of extra objects, and decreasingthesize of extra objects?

  12. Hypothesis: Childrengivenon-adult-likeanswersbecausetheyconsideralltheelementsinthevisualstimulusrelevant. Theyassumethatalltheiconsrepresentedinthepicturesaretobe accountedfor; theirtotalityconstitutesthedomain of quantification.

  13. Why? Becausetheyinterpretthestimuliasostensivesignals. Whenthevisualstimulusin a sentence-picturematchingtask is a minimalmodelabstractingawayfromthedetails of thesituation, childrenregardtheelements of thestimulusasostensivecluesrepresentingall and onlytherelevantelementsto be matchedwiththesentence.

  14. Experimentalevidence Objectives: To show that ifthevisualstimulicontainingonly a fewicon-likeelementsarereplacedbyphotosrichinaccidentaldetails, theyarenotmisunderstoodasostensivesignals, and QS is radicallyreduced.

  15. Experimentalprocedure Subjects: 82 childrenfrom 5 kindergartens Meanage: 5;3 years Adultcontrol: 24 universitystudents, Meanage: 21 years (SD=1,61) Method: Sentence-picturematching; truthvaluejudgement

  16. Experimentalprocedure Stimuli:8 test sentences, eachcoupledwith a correspondingiconicdrawing and a photo Everychild is sittingon a highchair.

  17. Results: p>0,001

  18. Discussion: Experimentersuseiconicstimulitoeliminateirrelevantdistractors, toensurethatchildrenareinfluencedbytherelevant, controlledfactor(s). Thismethod is mistakenwhenwewantto test whetherornot an elementinthestimulus is relevantforthelinguisticrepresentation. Ifthevisualstimulus is a minimalmodeldevoid of irrelevantdetails, childrentendtointerpretall of itselementsasostensivecluesto be representedlinguistically.

  19. Discussion: Iftheostensiveeffect is diminishedbytheuse of photostakeninnaturalenvironments, theproportion of QS is reducedby more than 50%. Whydoes a richerlinguisticorvisualcontextor a backgrounded extra objectreduceQS? Both increasingthenumber of extra objects, and decreasingthesize of extra objectsreducestheillusionthattheyareostensivesignalsto be representedlinguistically.

  20. Conclusion: QuantifierSpreading, studiedintensivelyforthepast 50 years, is theartefact of misleadingexperimentalmethodology.

  21. Casestudy 2: Scalarimplicatures Mary has 4 cards. entails Mary has 3 cards; Mary has 2 cards; M has 1 card Hence Mary has 3 cards=Mary has atleast 3 cards

  22. Experiment 1: Experimenter: Hard-workingbearsget a reward. Give a candytothebearsthathavepickedthree raspberries.

  23. In a pure test situationproportion of non-adult-likeanswers: 100% Participants: 20 preschoolers (meanage: 5;6) Results:

  24. Experiment 2: Game context; personalinvolvement of children The experimenter and thechild play a card game; thechildendsupwith 4 identicalcards. Experimenter: Ifyouhave 3 identicalcards, youget a balloon. Child: Sorry, I don’thavethree.

  25. In a game-like test situationproportion of non-adult-likeanswers: 72% Participants: 18 preschoolers (meanage: 5;6) Results:

  26. Experiment 3: emphasisnotonnumbersbutonhelping Experimenter: Mickeywantstobake an applepie, but he needsthree more apples. Does Donald havethreeapples?

  27. Inthis more natural test situationproportion of non-adult-likeanswers: 35% Participants:36 preschoolers (meanage: 5;4) Results:

  28. Experiment 4: acting out innaturalsituations Jointactivityunrelatedtothe test task. Onthetable: 4-5 glasses, cups, sugarlumpsinbowl Experimenter: Wearethirsty. Canyoufind 3 glassesonthe table? Ifyoucan, please, pour ussomewater.

  29. Exp. 4 testing numberinterpretation: acting out innaturalsituations Experimenter: The adultsdeservesomecoffee. Arethere 2 cups? Yes, thereare. Then pour ussomecoffee! Experimenter: I drinkcoffeewith 3 lumps of sugar. Arethere 3 lumpsinthesugarbowl?

  30. Innaturalacting-outsituationsproportion of non-adult-likeanswers: 15% Participants: 46 preschoolers Mean age: 5;5 years Results:

  31. Discussion: In test situations, childreninterpretnumeralsasostensivesignals. The ostensiveinterpretation of numeralsblockstheir 'atleast' reading. The more wehidethe test nature of thetask, theweakertheblockingeffect, the more adult-liketheresults.

  32. Conclusion: The test situationitselfmay lead totheostensive (inthiscase: literal) interpretation of thestimulus. Acting-outtasksinnaturalsituationsareexemptfromtheostensioneffect.

  33. Ways of eliminatingtheostensioneffect • Inexperiments testing thelinguisticrelevance of an item, thisitem must not be theonlypotentiallyirrelevantelement of thestimulus. 2. Testsshould be embeddedinnaturalsituations.

  34. References Butler, L.P, Markman, E.M. 2012. Preschoolers use intentional and pedagogical cues to guide inductive inferences and exploration. Child Development 83. Csibra, G., Gy. Gergely (2009) NaturalPedagogy. TrendsinCognitiveSciences 13. Drozd, K.F. (2001) Children’sweakinterpretations of universallyquantifiedsentences. InConceptualDevelopment and LanguageAcquisition, ed. M. Bowerman and S.C. Levinson, 340-376. CUP. Gerőcs, M. & Pintér, L. (2014) HowdoHungarianpreschoolersinterpretnumberwords? In: Kohlberger, M., Bellamy, K. & Dutton, E. (eds.): ConSOLEXXI. Leiden, Leiden University Centre forLinguistics, 104–122. Geurts, B. (2003) Quantifyingkids. LanguageAcquisition 11: 197-218. Philip, W. 1995. Eventquantificationintheacquisition of universalquantification. PhD diss., Umass, Amherst. Philip, W. 2011. Acquiringknowledge of universalquantification. InHandbook of GenerativeApproachestoLanguageAcquisition, ed. J. de Villiers, T. Roeper, 351-394. Dordrecht: Springer. Sperber, D., Wilson, D., 1986, 1995. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Blackwell, Oxford.