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The interpretation of focused pronouns in Norwegian children and adults

  • Camilla Hellum Foyn (a1), Mila Vulchanova (a1) and Randi Alice Nilsen (a1)

Abstract

Earlier research states that if an unaccented pronoun refers to the subject of the preceding sentence, a focally accented pronoun will refer to the object. In the current study, we tested whether Norwegian adults select the intended pronoun referent in this context. Our study is also the first one to use eye-tracking to investigate children's developing sensitivity to intonational cues in pronoun resolution, and consequently the first one where Norwegian is the object language. The participants were monolingual 3-, 5-, and 7-year-old children, and a group of adults. They listened to the Norwegian version of utterances like ‘Sarai hugged Mariaj. Then shei/SHEj hugged her own teddy bear’, while watching two corresponding figures on a screen. This was followed by the question, in Norwegian, ‘Who hugged her own teddybear?’ When answering the question, the adults selected the subject referent (Sara) after unaccented pronouns, and the object referent (Maria) after focally accented pronouns. Eye-tracking data revealed that the 7-year-olds initially looked towards the object referent after hearing the pronoun, and then switched to look at the subject referent, regardless of the pronoun's intonation. The 5-year-olds answered the question by selecting the intended referent more often after a focally accented pronoun than after an unaccented one. Finally, the 3-year-olds showed no clear preferences. These results suggest that Norwegian children under the age of seven are still not adult-like when resolving accented and unaccented pronouns.

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