How the Understanding of Focus Particles Develops: Evidence from Child German
Anja Müller, Petra Schulz, and Barbara Höhle
163-171 (complete paper
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This study investigates the understanding of the focus particle (FP) nur 'only' in 4- and 6-year-old children. Paterson et al. (2003) [PAT] reported that up to age 7 English-speaking children did not distinguish between FP-sentences like (1) Only the duck has a boat and (2) The duck has only a boat, suggesting that children fail to evaluate the set of alternatives and instead ignore the FP. Müller et al. (2007) found that at age 6 German-speaking children interpret nur-sentences basically adult-like if the FP is licensed by an adequate preceding verbal context. In contrast to Patterson et al., they reported a significantly better performance with pre-object (2) than with pre-subject FPs (1), suggesting that this asymmetry is caused by the different position of the focus. Previous studies leave open the question of how the comprehension abilities of German-speaking children for FP-sentences develop, and whether an asymmetry between pre-subject and pre-object FPs exists for younger children. The results of the present study suggest three stages in the FP comprehension: 1) Children do not understand nur, ignoring the FP. 2) Mastering pre-object, but not pre-subject nur. 3) Adult-like understanding of both FP-sentences types. In contrast to Paterson et al., it is assumed that children's failure is due to difficulties with the analysis of the information structure of FP-sentences.
Selected Proceedings of the 4th Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA 2010)
edited by Mihaela Pirvulescu, María Cristina Cuervo, Ana T. Pérez-Leroux, Jeffrey Steele, and Nelleke Strik
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