Project C3 (Höhle, Adani)

L1-acquisition of linguistic means to mark information structure: prosodic, syntactic and lexical aspects


The research in C3 focuses on the development of the production and comprehension of linguistic markers of information structure (IS) in first language acquisition. We want to elucidate at which age and by which mechanisms children acquire the prosodic, lexical and syntactic means to encode IS in their target language. Based on the continuity assumption in language acquisition, we suppose that children have the linguistic capacities to correctly interpret IS-related structures, but the use of this capacity may be more dependent than in adults on the ease with which a proposition can be integrated in the actual discourse context. Our work in the SFB has supported these assumptions in several ways. We have shown that during the first four years of life children use prosodic salience and word order to mark information structure in their utterances. Furthermore we have shown that children take presuppositions triggered by the focus particle auch (‘also’) into account when interpreting sentences, but that this capacity can only be evidenced in tasks with very specific demands (Berger & Höhle, submitted; Höhle, Berger, Müller, Schmitz, & Weissenborn, 2009). In addition, we have evidence that the comprehension of the sentences with focus particles and with non-canonical word order can be enhanced when the sentences are presented within an adequate verbal or situational context (A. Müller 2010; Kühn, Hörnig, & Höhle, 2010).

In the next funding period of the SFB, we will follow up and complete our previous research with typically-developing children in the following areas. First, we will extend our cross-linguistic research on the development of prosodic and syntactic means of focus marking in English, French and German. These languages show systematic prosodic and syntactic differences with respect to the way in which they mark focus. Second, we will investigate how children process canonical and non-canonical sentences in different contexts using eye-tracking with the visual world paradigm. Third, we will further test the hypothesis that children’s widely evidenced problems in interpreting sentences with focus particles are largely dependent on the specific demands of the task used for testing children’s comprehension. In the remainder part of the project, we will use the insights gained from our research on typically developing children and transfer them to the investigation of children with developmental disorders. We will assess production and comprehension of sentences with focus particles and with non-canonical word order in children with Specific Language Impairment and high-functioning individuals (children and/or adults) with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Here, our general goal is to determine if and how the grammar (i.e., core computational system), on the one hand, and the pragmatic component, on the other, can be selectively affected in the (a)typically-developing language systems. Should performance of children with developmental disorders differ significantly from that of typically-developing controls, our results will provide a starting point to develop remediation tools for language rehabilitation.


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