The Competition Between Processing and Discourse-Pragmatic Factors in Children’s and Adults’ Production of Adverbial When-Clauses

Shijie Zhang, Bianca Junge, Elena Lieven, Silke Brandt, Anna Theakston

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Abstract

Purpose: This is the first study to investigate the combined effects of processing-based factors (i.e., clause length and clause order) and discourse-pragmatic factors (i.e., information structure) on children’s and adults’ production of adverbial when-clauses.Method: In a sentence repetition task, 16 three-year-old and 16 five-year-old children as well as 17 adults listened to and watched an animated story and then were asked to repeat what they had just heard and seen. Each story contained an adverbial when-clause and its main clause. The sentences were manipulated for their clause order, information structure and clause length.
Results: Adults tended to change main-when clause orders to when-main in their repetitions and they showed a strong preference for the given-new order of information. In contrast, three-year olds tended to change when-main clause orders to main-when and they showed a preference for the new-given order of information. In addition, three-year-olds tended to produce short-long clause orders irrespective of what they had heard whereas adults produced both short-long and long-short orders in line with the input. In general, five-year-olds were more adult-like in their production compared to three-year-olds.
Conclusions: Young children were strongly affected by processing-based factors in their production of complex sentences. They tended to order main and when-clauses in a way that requires less planning and processing load. However, they have not yet attained an adult-like sensitivity to discourse-pragmatic factors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Volume66
Early online date30 Oct 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2023

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