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 - 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 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 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 - 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.