AbstractAdult speakers typically order referents that have been previously mentioned in the discourse (“old” referents) before newly introduced referents (“new” referents). But 3–5-year-olds acquiring German exhibit a “new-old” preference in a task involving question-answer sequences (Narasimhan, Bhuvana and Christine Dimroth. 2008. Word order and information status in child language. Cognition 107. 317–329). Here we ask whether we can change 4–5-year-olds’ new-old preference by manipulating the context in order to encourage connected discourse. Findings show that discourse context changes children’s new-old preference. Children produce the new-old order in fluent utterances and the old-new order in non-fluent utterances. Adult controls overwhelmingly prefer the old-new order, even more so when the weight (number of syllables) of the old referent label is greater than that of the new referent label. Our study demonstrates that although cognitive and communicative biases may influence children’s ordering patterns in non-adult-like ways, such patterns are not categorical, but are flexibly influenced by factors such as discourse context.
Linguistics Vanguard – de Gruyter
Published: Sep 19, 2017
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