Subject pronoun use in adult Spanish is strongly influenced by Continuity of Reference, which refers to whether a verb maintains the same subject as the previous verb (same-reference) or changes it (switch-reference). Overt subject pronouns are used more frequently in switch-reference than in same-reference contexts. To investigate the development of this discourse predictor of pronoun use, a preference task was given to 149 children, ages 5;9 to 15;8, and 30 adults in Queretaro, Mexico. Participants were told stories that contained either a same- or switch-reference context. In these stories, overt pronouns in same-reference contexts were redundant, and null pronouns in switch-reference contexts were ambiguous. Adults strongly preferred overt pronouns in switch-reference contexts and null pronouns in same-reference contexts. Many of the youngest children, however, preferred null pronouns in switch-reference contexts, revealing their difficulty with establishing clear referents for pronouns. By age nine, children significantly preferred overt pronouns in switch-reference contexts, but over-accepted overt pronouns in same-reference contexts. By age 14, children preferred null pronouns in same-reference contexts, but not to the degree adults did. The results are interpreted within the context of the "interface hypothesis" (Sorace 2005), according to which features at the syntax-discourse interface are more complex and develop later than features regulated by syntax alone.
Selected Proceedings of the 11th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium
edited by Joseph Collentine, Maryellen García, Barbara Lafford, and Francisco Marcos Marín
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