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How to make young children produce cleft sentences

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2009

Michel Hupet
Affiliation:
University of Louvain
Brigitte Tilmant
Affiliation:
University of Louvain

Abstract

The present study focuses on the effects of contextual demands on the selection of a particular syntactic device, in asking whether French-speaking children from 4 to 10 years old will spontaneously produce it-cleft sentences if there is a functional necessity arising from the context. Taking into account recent studies that have specified the discourse function(s) served by this marked sentence form, it was hypothesized that the cleft formulation would be more likely than its uncleft counterpart whenever the child's intention was to contrast their own belief or knowledge with that of their addressee. The study showed this to be the case when the matter of the disagreement concerned the agent of an action: that situation elicited an overwhelming majority (from 80% to 97%) of cleft constructions, even from the youngest children. On the other hand, when the matter of the disagreement concerned the patient, there were only a few cleft constructions, even with the oldest children; contrastive stress on the object constituent was the predominant device employed for marking information in that situation. The high proportion of clefts in the Agent condition, and the high proportion of stressed object constituents in the Patient condition, both differ from previously reported data. These differences are discussed with reference to differences in task requirements and to differences between the prosodie constraints of French and English.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1989

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References

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