Three experiments examined 2.5-year-olds' sensitivity to discourse structure in pronoun interpretation. Children heard simple two-character stories illustrated by pictures on two video screens. In Experiments 1 and 2, one character in each story was established as more prominent than the other in several context sentences because it was mentioned first, appeared in subject position, was mentioned more often, and was pronominalized once. In Experiment 3, one character was singled out as more prominent only by being mentioned first and placed in subject position. In all three experiments, after hearing a pronoun subject in the final (test) sentence of each story, children looked longer at the character established as more prominent in the preceding sentences. These experiments show that 2.5-year-olds, like older children and adults, interpret pronouns relative to a discourse representation in which referents are ranked in prominence, and that the prominence of discourse referents is influenced by some of the same factors that guide pronoun interpretation in adulthood.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from NICHD to Cynthia Fisher (HD 44458) and in part by Yonsei University Research Fund of 2006 to Hyun-joo Song. We thank Renée Baillargeon, Gary Dell, Susan Garnsey, Adele Goldberg, and Kristine Onishi for many helpful comments, the undergraduate research assistants of the language acquisition lab for their help in data collection, and the parents and children who participated in this research.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Language and Linguistics
- Linguistics and Language