Two-year-olds but not younger children comprehend 'it' in ambiguous contexts: Evidence from preferential looking

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Abstract

In adult language use, anaphoric pronouns, such as he, she, or it, refer to highly accessible or previously mentioned (GIVEN) referents. However, two-year-olds often spontaneously produce pronouns for inaccessible (NEW) referents, and also use null arguments (e.g., I put __ on there.) or lexical nouns (e.g., I hurt my finger. My finger hurts.) for given referents. The purpose of this study was to test whether this non-adult-like pattern reflects two-year-olds’ lack of understanding of the anaphoric function of pronouns. We tested whether children and adults would prefer to look at a previously introduced vs. novel visual object depending on the argument form (it, the+NOUN, a+NOUN, or silence). Results demonstrate that, like adults, two-year-olds (but not younger children) understand that it refers to a previously introduced referent. This suggests that two-year-olds’ non-adult-like production of pronouns is likely to have a source other than a failure to understand their anaphoric function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-268
JournalJournal of Child Language
Volume44
Issue number1
Early online date14 Jan 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017

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