ERIC Number: ED209933
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1981-Nov
Reference Count: 0
The Role of Animate Referents in New Syntax.
Preschoolers' ability to understand grammatical relations in passives and to generalize was studied using animate referents. Three- to five-year-old children were taught to produce passive sentence descriptions of events in which animacy of the actor and acted-on object were varied. After pretesting to determine passive sentence comprehension, the experimenter used toys to enact 32 actor-plus-action-plus-object events, and described 20 events in passive sentence form. Then the child was asked to describe the event without benefit of the experimenter's example. Three types of toys were used to enact the events: (1) animate (e.g., girl, horse); (2) dynamic inanimate (e.g., train, ball); and (3) static inanimate (e.g., house, piano). Training conditions were as follows: animate actors acted on dynamic inanimate objects; dynamic inanimate actors acted on animate objects; and the acted-on objects were static inanimate things. It was found that when the referents in the event coincided with particular word order propensities, production preceded comprehension. Children who were unaware that the grammatical subject and object in passives correspond to the underlying object and subject still produced sentences which observed these relations. Apparently, a linguistic rule is not always the base for correct word order. It is suggested that the discrimination between animate and inanimate actors that emerged may not involve the entity's capacity for independent action, but may involve the child's naming a referent in preverbal or in postverbal position according to the referent's relative salience. (SW)
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: Stanford Univ., CA. Dept. of Linguistics.
Note: In its Papers and Reports on Child Language Development, Number 20, p84-91, Nov 1981.