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The psycholinguistics of developing text construction*

  • RUTH A. BERMAN (a1)


This paper outlines functionally motivated quantifiable criteria for characterizing different facets of discourse – global-level principles, categories of referential content, clause-linking complex syntax, local linguistic expression and overall discourse stance – in relation to the variables of development, genre and modality. Concern is with later, school-age language development, in the conviction that the long developmental route of language acquisition can profitably be examined in the context of extended discourse. Findings are reviewed from a cross-linguistic project that elicited narrative and expository texts in both speech and writing at four age groups: (9–10 years, 12–13, 16–17 and adults). Clear developmental patterns emerge from middle childhood to adulthood, with significant shifts in adolescence; global-level text organization is mastered earlier in narratives than in expository essays, but the latter promote more advanced use of local-level lexicon and syntax; and spoken texts are more spread out than their denser written counterparts in clause-linkage, referential content and lexical usage. These and other findings are discussed in terms of the growth and reorganization of knowledge about types of discourse and text-embedded language use.


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Address for correspondence: Dr. Ruth A. Berman, Department of Linguistics, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel69978. e-mail:


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This paper developed from an invited talk to the Forum on Brain and Language, Bar Ilan University, January 2006. Bracha Nir-Sagiv of Tel Aviv University was of invaluable help in all aspects of this paper, from ideas via coding to statistics. I am indebted to Dorit Ravid for her insights and support in our joint projects, to Anat Hora, Irit Katzenberger, Iris Levin, Ana Sandbank and Batia Seroussi for their helpful comments, and to two anonymous reviewers, to an associate editor of the journal, and to Edith Bavin as journal editor for important feedback. Inadequacies that remain are mine alone.



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The psycholinguistics of developing text construction*

  • RUTH A. BERMAN (a1)


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