, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 7-30
Date: 16 Dec 2011

On the Asymmetrical Difficulty of Acquiring Person Reference in French: Production Versus Comprehension

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Young French children freely produce subject pronouns by the age of 2. However, by age 2 and a half they fail to interpret 3rd person pronouns in an experimental setting designed to select a referent among three participants (speaker, hearer, and other). No such problems are found with 1st and 2nd person pronouns. We formalize our analysis of these empirical results in terms of direction-sensitive optimizations, showing that uni-directionality of optimization, when combined with non-adult-like constraint rankings, explains the general acquisition pattern of 3rd person pronouns. Building on a specific analysis of assigning 3rd person reference by computing over alternatives (Heim 1991), we show that adult interpretation does not require bidirectional OT although it is fully compatible with it. What matters for comprehension in the domain investigated here is constraint ranking.

Thanks to: Isabelle Barrière/Brooklyn College, Thierry Nazzi and Louise Goyet/LPP Paris Descartes, and Jenny Culbertson and Mónica López-González/JHU for their participation in the experimental study reported here; Emmanuel Chemla/LSCP/Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris, Philippe Schlenker and Benjamin Spector/Institut Jean Nicod, Paris for sharing their semantics/pragmatics expertise; the 2010 GALANA audience; the audience at the 2009 KNAW conference in Amsterdam, in particular Henk Zeevat; the audience at the 2010 Tandem Workshop in Berlin, in particular Uli Sauerland; and two anonymous reviewers, as well as the guest editors, Petra Hendriks, Helen de Hoop, and Henriëtte de Swart. Last but not least, we thank for their financial support the NSF (grant #0446954 to GL) and a Chaire Internationale de Recherche Blaise Pascal, l’Etat et la Région d’Ile-de-France (PS).