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Title: The development of determiners in young children : with special reference to the articles and demonstratives
Author: Garton, Alison
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1982
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The determiners, including such words as the articles, the and a, and the demonstratives, this and that, have been studied from many points of view. There are grammatical theories of their derivation and use, philosophical investigations and psychological studies, looking at adult use. However, few studies have considered the acquisition of these small, but important, words in child language development. Those studies that do exist tend to regard the child's acquisition as a progressive approximation to, or attainment of, adult usage. Chapter 1 of the thesis reviews the previous literature in the area in order to place in perspective the present research study. Chapter 1 is divided into six sections. The first section serves as a short introduction to the determiners and examines briefly some of the approaches to their study. Philosophical and linguistic studies are mentioned in passing. Historically, the definite, article the and the demonstrative that are derived from the same word in Old English (poet), while a is derived from the numeral one. However, most psychological studies of determiner acquisition have been derived from the assumption that the definite and indefinite (articles are part of one contrastive system. In order to discuss the psychological studies, section 2 examines the grammatical theories, starting with Christophersen (1939) and Jespersen (1949), of the articles and the demonstratives, as contrastive systems of language use. However, a second approach, which is taken up by developmental psycholinguists, is what is termed the functional approach. This approach is advocated primarily by psycholinguists and philosophers of language, who believe that the articles and demonstratives are linked (as they are historically) into one integrated system of determination. Section 3 therefore considers integrated theories of determiner acquisition, commencing from the work of Lyons (1975, 1977). It has been established that there are two theoretical approaches to the study of determiner acquisition, the contrastive approach and the integrated functional approach. The rest of Chapter 1 is concerned with empirical approaches, and section A examines some psychological studies of article acquisition. The work of Brown (1973), Maratsos (1976) and Warden (1973) represents studies based on the assumed contrast between the and a. The work of Bresson (1974) and Karmiloff-Smith (1976, 1979) represents the functional approach to article acquisition. The contrastive approach tends to regard the child as working towards adult competence with the articles, and thus the young child errs in his use. Brown, Maratsos, and Warden each deal at length with the child's apparent egocentric use of the definite article. The child uses the instead of a, when introducing a referent known to himself, to a listener who does not have the same knowledge. Brown draws on spontaneous speech, and considers mainly the correctness of syntactic forms. Maratsos and Warden consider the meanings of the words and the child's developing grasp of the articles as a semantic system. Bresson and Karmiloff-Smith, while both working with French-speaking children, consider the articles as part of a total system of determination. Although Bresson tends to regard the children as erring when they do not possess adult functions of the articles, Karmiloff-Smith, in a very extensive study, looks at what the children produce and understand. She then postulates the functions the determiners have for young children, how the functions are initially established and how they develop and change with an increase in linguistic and cognitive competence. The present research thesis could be viewed as an extension of this approach with English-speaking children. A similar distinction between the contrastive and functional approaches to determiner acquisition is seen with the demonstratives, and section 5 of Chapter 1 considers the work of Clark (1978). She looks at the acquisition of the demonstratives (and other deictic pairs) in terms of the child learning specific contrasts, e.g. this vs. that as proximal vs. non-proximal spatio-temporal distance. While Karmiloff-Smith also deals with the demonstratives in her functional approach, the work of Wales (1978, 1979) is discussed. Wales, while considering experimentally the acquisition of the contrastive deictic terms, also looks at spontaneous use of the determiners in mother-child interaction. Not only is the speech examined, but also the nonlinguistic gestures that accompany the speech of young children. The final section of the review chapter summarises the previous research. Also presented are the broad aims of the experiments that are reported in Chapters 2, 3 and 4. The functional approach is taken, with the. research being based on the notion that the article system and the demonstrative system are not separate and individually contrastive systems, but are linked via the and that, in their deictic functions. The experiments aimed to show how production and comprehension of the determiners can be influenced by various contextual factors. Each experiment was designed to allow for maximum flexibility, and all verbal and nonverbal responses were recorded and subjected to analysis. In this way, a clearer indication of precisely what functions of the articles and demonstratives three year old children are competent with, can be gained. Chapter 2, presenting the article comprehension experiments, commences by outlining the theoretically assumed adult functions of the articles. These functions may not necessarily be the ones on which the three year old child's article system is based. However, the functions are derived from adult-based notions of usage, so it is reasonable to suggest that they will serve as valid assumptions on which to base the experiments. Three experiments were conducted aimed at examining the young child's understanding of assumed contrasts between the functions of the and a. In all but one condition of one experiment, the children did not provide evidence of understanding the theoretically assumed contrasts. Instead, nonlinguistic response bias explanations were put forward of how the children were performing. However it is not known if the response biases arise because the children do not understand the language, or whether such biases (for absolute location, for relative location, depending on the nature of the task) block any potential understanding. Finally, the problem of designing tasks suitable for article comprehension is discussed. Chapter 3 presents the experiments designed to elicit the articles (and other determiners, both linguistic and nonlinguistic). Experiments to elicit only the articles (and their assumed contrast) tend to be fairly un-natural (see Maratsos, 1976), and hence flexible task designs were adopted for the present studies. Many forms of determiner use were elicited by these tasks, and these form the basis for Chapter 3. Experiment 4 studied the already well-documented use of the indefinite article for naming. However, a large incidence (about 30%) of article omission was recorded - an incidence which re-occurred throughout the experiments. Experiments 5 to 7 investigated the effects of various manipulations on subsequent article use. These variables included : the naming of the objects prior to subsequent questioning; altering the form of the question posed; the use of hidden vs. visible arrays; and variation of the class composition of the arrays. It was found that there was an interactive effect of these variables on subsequent article use and the functions of these article forms, but that the form of the question posed. had the greatest effect.
Supervisor: Bruner, Jerome Seymour ; Bryant, Peter Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Developmental psychology ; Children ; Language acquisition ; Grammar, Comparative and general ; Determiners ; Article Psychology