Pronouns as Elsewhere Elements: Implications for Language Acquisition

E. Grolla, 2005

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This dissertation investigates the acquisition of A- and A –bound pronouns in Brazilian Portuguese and English. Previous studies on the acquisition of pronouns have found that children behave at chance level when pronouns with local antecedents in A and A positions are tested.

The hypothesis under investigation here is that children performed poorly in tests with locally A- and A-bound pronouns because the source of the problem is the same. There are several reasons to pursue a unifying approach. First, both constructions involve pronouns. Second, results of studies in several languages indicate that children perform similarly on both tests, incorrectly accepting these cases at chance level. And third, the age-range when this chance performance is detected is the same in both cases, that is, around 4 and 5 years of age.

         Following Hornstein (2001), I assume that (A- and A-) bound pronouns are elsewhere elements, that can only be inserted in a derivation if needed for convergence. Adopting Grodzinsky and Reinharts (1993) hypothesis, I claim that such a condition is too demanding for young children, as their limited working memory cannot handle complex computations, such as those required in order to assess if bound pronouns are licit in a derivation.

         Using the grammaticality judgment task, the same Brazilian Portuguese- and English-speaking children were interviewed on two experiments, one involving A-bound pronouns and another involving A-bound pronouns. The date revealed that the majority of the children performed at chance level (50% correct responses) when A- bound pronouns placed in extractable positions were tested (*the frog that he is skating is happy). Children also behaved at chance level when pronouns locally A-bound by both referential and quantified antecedents were tested (*the dog √every dogi is scratching himi). Importantly, children did not behave at chance in control cases where the kind of computation mentioned above is not necessary. In these cases, children behaved at ceiling. These results support the hypothesis under investigation here, indicating that childrens problems with pronouns is related to processing problems rather than to the lack of some linguistic knowledge.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1- Introduction                                                                                          1

1.1. Introduction                                                                                         1

         1.1.1 Language Acquisition and the Theory of Principles and Parameters                        1

         1.1.2 A-Bound Pronouns in Adult Languages                                                3

         1.1.3 A-Bound Pronouns in Adult Languages                                                5

1.2. The Acquisition of Pronouns                                                                      7

         1.2.1 The Acquisition of A-Bound Pronouns                                                  7

         1.2.2 The Acquisition of A-Bound Pronouns                                                 10

         1.2.3 Proposal                                                                                  11

Chapter II –Previous Studies                                                                           22

2.1 Studies on the Acquisition of A-Bound Pronouns                                                23

         2.1.1 Chien and Wexler (1990)                                                                25

         2.1.2 Thornton and Wexler (1999)                                                            33

         2.1.3 Grodzinsky and Reinhart (1993)                                                        42

         2.1.4 Conclusion                                                                               47

2.2 Studies on the Acquisition of A-Bound Pronouns                                                47

         2.2.1 Labelle (1988, 1990)                                                                    54

         2.2.2 Prex-Leroux (1995)                                                                     57

         2.2.3 McKee and McDaniel (2001)                                                            63

         2.2.4 Conclusion                                                                               68

2.3 Conclusion to Chapter 2                                                                            69

Chapter III- The Acquisition of A- and A-Bound Pronouns                                           70

3.1 Introduction                                                                                         70

3.2 Pronouns as Elsewhere Elements                                                                 72

         3.2.1 Pronouns in Brazilian Portuguese                                                               81

         3.2.2 Technical Implementations                                                            84

         The Insertion of Self                                                          84

         The Insertion of Pronouns                                                    87

         Coreferential Pronouns                                                       90

         3.2.3 Reference-Set Computation                                                            94

3.3 Reference-Set Computation and Working Memory                                              96

         3.3.1 Reference-Set Computation and Language Processing                              97

         3.3.2 Working Memory Capacity in Children and Adults                                            101

3.4 Proposal and Predictions                                                                          104

Chapter IV- Experimental Results                                                                      110

4.1 Introduction                                                                                         110

4.2 Experiments                                                                                         112

         4.2.1 Experiment I: English                                                                    112

         4.2.2 Experiment II: Brazilian Portuguese                                                    125

4.3 General Discussion                                                                                          130

         4.3.1 Chance Level Performance                                                                      130

         4.3.2 Reaching the Steady State                                                                       133

         4.3.3 Avrutin and Wexler (1992) on the Acquisition of Russian                            135

4.4 Quantified Antecedents                                                                            138

         4.4.1 DP – him vs. QP – him Acceptance Rates                                          139

         4.4.2 Chien and Wexler (1990)                                                                141

         Experiment III: The Saliency Test                                                      148

         4.4.3 Thornton and Wexler (1990)                                                            154

         4.4.4 Conclusion                                                                               157

4.5 Conclusion to Chapter 4                                                                            158

Chapter 4 –Final Remarks                                                                              160

5.1 Introduction                                                                                         160

5.2 The Acquisition of Bound Pronouns                                                                        160

5.3 The Elimination of Principle B from the Theory of Grammar                                              165

5.4 Implications for Future Research                                                                 172

Appendix I – Sentences Used in Experiment I (English)                                               180

Appendix II – Sentences Used in Experiment II (Brazilian Portuguese)                             181

Appendix III – Sentences Used in Experiment III (Saliency Test)                                     183

References                                                                                               184