Pronoun preference of children in a language without typical third-person pronouns

Maialen Iraola Azpiroz, Mikel Santesteban, Antonella Sorace, Maria-José Ezeizabarrena

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study presents comprehension data from 6–7 and 8–10-year-old children as well as adults on the acceptability of null vs. overt anaphoric forms (the demonstrative hura ‘that’ and the quasipronoun bera ‘(s)he (him-/herself)’) in Basque, a language without true third-person pronouns. In an acceptability judgement task, a developmental change occurred in the preference for hura (Experiment 1): 6–7-year-olds showed a preference for the null pronoun in both topic-shift and topic-continuity contexts, while 8–10-year-olds, like adults, preferred hura in topic-shift contexts and null pronouns in topic-continuity contexts. However, no developmental shift was observed in the preference for bera (Experiment 2): unlike adults, neither 6–7- nor 8–10-year-old children selected bera over null pronouns in topic-shift contexts. They instead showed a general preference for null pronouns, an indication of tolerance for ambiguity – a pattern which differs from prior studies in other null-subject languages where ambiguous pronouns declined with age. The results reveal a different developmental pattern for hura and bera, which may be explained by the more rigid (syntactic) constraints operating on hura in comparison to bera in antecedent choice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-185
JournalFirst Language
Issue number2
Early online date30 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Null pronoun
  • topic shift
  • overt anaphoric form
  • co-reference
  • topic continuity


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