Impact of Context and Type of Referring Expression on Sentence Comprehension in German-Speaking Children
Antje Sauermann and Barbara Höhle
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While already three-year-old German-speaking children produce transitive sentences in the non-canonical OVS word order, even seven-year-olds have problems understanding OVS sentences. Previous research showed that topic-first contexts ease OVS processing in adults and personal pronouns ease the comprehension of object relative clauses in preschoolers. This may be explained by a reduction of intervention effects or processing costs or by providing a cue to the subject status. We investigated the impact of context and type of referring expression on OVS sentence comprehension in German-speaking four-year-olds, five-year-olds, and seven-year-olds. Our data show that a topic-first context (compared to a neutral context) did not ease OVS comprehension when both arguments were realized as lexical NPs. However, realizing the topic as personal pronoun eased comprehension in topic-first (pronoun=object) and topic-last (pronoun=subject) contexts. This indicates that personal pronouns may reduce intervention effects or processing costs. Five-year-olds showed higher OVS comprehension accuracy in topic-last contexts. They may be influenced by the frequency-based link between personal pronouns, topic status, and word order.
Proceedings of the 6th Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA 2015)
edited by Laurel Perkins, Rachel Dudley, Juliana Gerard, and Kasia Hitczenko
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