Factors Affecting Young Children's Use of Pronouns as Referring Expressions Most studies of children's use of pronouns have focused either on the morphology of personal pronouns or on the anaphoric use of pronouns by older children. The current two studies investigated factors affecting children's choice of pronouns as referring expressions—in contrast with their use of full nouns and null references. ... Research Article
Research Article  |   December 01, 2000
Factors Affecting Young Children's Use of Pronouns as Referring Expressions
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Aimee L. Campbell
    Emory University Atlanta, GA
  • Patricia Brooks
    Emory University Atlanta, GA
  • Michael Tomasello
    Emory University Atlanta, GA
  • Corresponding author: e-mail: tomas@eva.mpg.de
  • Contact author: Michael Tomasello, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany. Email: tomas@eva.mpg.de
    Contact author: Michael Tomasello, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany. Email: tomas@eva.mpg.de×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   December 01, 2000
Factors Affecting Young Children's Use of Pronouns as Referring Expressions
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 2000, Vol. 43, 1337-1349. doi:10.1044/jslhr.4306.1337
History: Received January 6, 2000 , Accepted August 2, 2000
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 2000, Vol. 43, 1337-1349. doi:10.1044/jslhr.4306.1337
History: Received January 6, 2000; Accepted August 2, 2000

Most studies of children's use of pronouns have focused either on the morphology of personal pronouns or on the anaphoric use of pronouns by older children. The current two studies investigated factors affecting children's choice of pronouns as referring expressions—in contrast with their use of full nouns and null references. In the first study it was found that 2.5- and 3.5-year-old children did not use pronouns differentially whether the adult (a) modeled a pronoun or a noun for the target object or (b) did or did not witness the target event (although there was evidence that they did notice and take account of the adult's witnessing in other ways). In the second study it was found that children of this same age (a) do not use pronouns to avoid unfamiliar or difficult nouns but (b) do use pronouns differently depending on the immediately preceding discourse of the experimenter (whether they were asked a specific question such as "What did X do?" or a general question such as "What happened?"). In the case of specific questions, children prefer to use a null reference but use some pronouns as well (almost never using full nouns); in the case of the generic questions, children use pronouns even more often (and use nouns more as well). This finding was corroborated by some new analyses of children's use of pronouns in specific discourse situations in previously published studies. These findings suggest that children's choice of pronouns as referring expressions in early language development is influenced more by the immediately preceding discourse than other kinds of factors.

Acknowledgments
We would like to thank the day care center directors, teachers, and children who participated in the study.
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