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

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

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    Rights statement: The final version of this paper has been published in First Language, 37/2, November/2016 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © Maialen Iraola Azpiroz, Mikel Santesteban, Antonella Sorace, Maria-José Ezeizabarrena. 2016. It is available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0142723716679799

    Accepted author manuscript, 429 KB, PDF document

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-185
JournalFirst Language
Issue number2
Early online date30 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


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.

    Research areas

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

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