Online evidence for children’s interpretation of personal pronouns

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Traditional language acquisition research that employs offline tasks, such as act-out, pointing, sentence-picture matching, truth-value and grammaticality judgments, has established that children up to the age of 6 make mistakes in the comprehension of anaphoric expressions. With the adaptation of the Visual World Eye-Tracking Paradigm (VWP) for language acquisition, it has become possible to investigate the interpretation of anaphoric expressions in children in real time to gain a better understanding of the development of pronominal reference. This chapter provides an overview of the VWP studies of 3- to 9-year-old children’s comprehension of reflexives and personal pronouns in terms of various linguistic constraints and their interaction. There is a developmental trajectory of such constraints, with morphological (gender) and lexico-semantic (verb transitivity) constraints being acquired first, followed by syntactic constraints (Principles A and B of the Binding Theory). Discourse-level constraints, such as information structure and order-of-mention, develop last and often need to be present in combination for children to apply them online.


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