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The acquisition of pronouns by French children: A parallel study of production and comprehension

  • PASCAL ZESIGER (a1), LAURENCE CHILLIER ZESIGER (a1), MARINA ARABATZI (a1), LARA BARANZINI (a1), STÉPHANY CRONEL-OHAYON (a2), JULIE FRANCK (a1), ULRICH HANS FRAUENFELDER (a1), CORNELIA HAMANN (a3) and LUIGI RIZZI (a4)...

Abstract

This study examines syntactic and morphological aspects of the production and comprehension of pronouns by 99 typically developing French-speaking children aged 3 years, 5 months to 6 years, 5 months. A fine structural analysis of subject, object, and reflexive clitics suggests that whereas the object clitic chain crosses the subject chain, the reflexive clitic chain is nested within it. We argue that this structural difference introduces differences in processing complexity, chain crossing being more complex than nesting. In support of this analysis, both production and comprehension experiments show that children have more difficulty with object than with reflexive clitics (with more omissions in production and more erroneous judgments in sentences involving Principle B in comprehension). Concerning the morphological aspect, French subject and object pronouns agree in gender with their referent. We report serious difficulties with pronoun gender both in production and comprehension in children around the age of 4 (with nearly 30% errors in production and chance level judgments in comprehension), which tend to disappear by age 6. The distribution of errors further suggests that the masculine gender is processed as the default value. These findings provide further insights into the relationship between comprehension and production in the acquisition process.

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Corresponding author

ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Pascal Zesiger, Faculté de Psychologie et des Sciences de l'Education, Université de Genève, 40 Boulevard du Pont d'Arve, Geneva 1205, Switzerland. E-mail: pascal.zesiger@unige.ch

References

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