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This article investigates whether human masculine plural noun phrases (NPs) in Spanish, which can be interpreted with an exclusively masculine or a mixed-gender meaning, are a case of balanced or unbalanced ambiguity. The results of an experiment using a sentence continuation task with oral stimuli are consistent with the claim that masculine grammatical gender biases listeners toward an exclusively masculine interpretation. The acceptance rate of continuations with the pronoun uno/una referring to a masculine plural antecedent showed that the exclusively masculine meaning of the NP is accessed more frequently and involves a lower cognitive cost than the mixed-gender interpretation. Further, this effect interacts with the stereotypicality of the noun: nouns independently established to carry a masculine stereotype are less likely to be associated with a mixed-gender interpretation. The study also found that the speakers’ attitudes toward nonsexist language predict their acceptance of the mixed-gender interpretation of masculine NPs.
Interface Delay is a theory of syntactic development, which attempts to explain an array of constructions that are slow to develop, which are characterized by being sensitive to discourse-pragmatic considerations of the type associated with the natural semantic class of definites. The theory claims that neither syntax itself, nor the discourse-pragmatic abilities related to executive function and theory of mind themselves are slow to develop. Rather, the claim is that the nexus or interface between the two cognitive domains is slow to develop. We review the development of subjects in child Spanish as an example of this delayed growth trajectory. Further, we review evidence that a delay in the development of tense causes concomitant delays in the seemingly unrelated phenomena of non-nominative case subject pronoun use and un-inverted wh- questions.
Child English speakers use nonnominative pronouns in subject position but do not tend to use these types of pronouns with finite verbs. Recent findings demonstrate that knowledge of the pronoun paradigm is relevant to pronoun case errors below the 60% correct finiteness marking level but irrelevant above it. We use a receptive test with children who are above the 60% correct finiteness marking level and show that judgments of nominative case and verb finiteness correlate (r = .549, p < .001, n = 49), consistent with the predictions of case theory. Children at this level of finiteness marking show no asymmetry in feminine versus masculine nonnominative errors, but they do allow third singular –s with nonnominatives, which is problematic for both agreement tense omission model and constructivist priming accounts.
In The emergence of language, it is argued that much of what generative
linguistics has characterized as ‘rules’ in fact can be derived from domain-
general cognitive mechanisms. One example of this perspective is Bates &
Goodman's contribution ‘On the emergence of grammar in the lexicon’,
which Sabbagh & Gelman say offers ‘…a series of compelling arguments
detailing how development and early acquisition shape the subsequent
acquisition of new information.’ The thrust of the argument presented by
Bates & Goodman is that there is no need to posit the existence of an
independent grammar domain, because grammar can be reduced to the
lexicon, which in Bates & Goodman's account, can be acquired using general
purpose mechanisms. One of several major arguments in favour of this
position presented by the authors is that grammar and vocabulary grow at
the same rates in child speech. Thus, the authors argue that the development
of the lexicon and grammar correlate because there is no grammar outside of
The development of specified tense and number morphology in child
Catalan and Spanish is found to correlate with the onset of overt subject
use. The data come from four monolingual child Catalan-speakers (from
the Serrà & Solé corpus) and one monolingual child Spanish-speaker
(from the Linaza corpus) who were studied longitudinally from 1:0 to
3; 6, approximately. The simultaneous emergence of tense and number
morphology on one hand and overt subjects on the other in the
children's speech is taken as evidence that a particular aspect of
Universal Grammar, Case Theory, determines the possible co-occurrences
of verbal inflections and subject types in developing grammatical
systems. Parallels in verbal inflectional development are found in other
child languages, while such parallels are not found in regard to subject
use. Possible modifications to Case Theory, which would allow a unified
account of the cross-linguistic developmental patterns of subject use, are
considered. The possibility of explaining the early absence of overt
subjects in these null subject languages as the result of an early sentence
processing deficit is explored and rejected. The children's knowledge of
whether their language is a null subject or overt subject language even
before acquiring adult-like verbal inflection is taken as further evidence
for what has been called ‘early convergence’ on parameter settings.
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