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Children’s judgements of agreeing and non-agreeing sentences Neufeld, Werner 1977

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CHILDREN'S JUDGMENTS OF AGREEING AND NON-AGREEING SENTENCES by WERNER NEUFELD Honours B.A., Brock U n i v e r s i t y , 1973 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS " ... .' in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Department of Psychology) We accept t h i s thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA May, 1977 ('cY Werner Neufeld, 1977 In p r e s e n t i n g t h i s t h e s i s in p a r t i a l f u l f i l m e n t o f the r e q u i r e m e n t s f o r an advanced degree at the U n i v e r s i t y o f B r i t i s h Co lumb ia , I a g ree that the L i b r a r y s h a l l make i t f r e e l y a v a i l a b l e f o r r e f e r e n c e and s tudy . I f u r t h e r agree t h a t p e r m i s s i o n f o r e x t e n s i v e c o p y i n g o f t h i s t h e s i s f o r s c h o l a r l y purposes may be g r a n t e d by the Head o f my Department o r by h i s r e p r e s e n t a t i v e s . It i s u n d e r s t o o d that c o p y i n g o r p u b l i c a t i o n o f t h i s t h e s i s f o r f i n a n c i a l g a i n s h a l l not be a l l o w e d w i thou t my w r i t t e n p e r m i s s i o n . The U n i v e r s i t y o f B r i t i s h Co lumbia 2075 Wesbrook Place Vancouver, Canada V6T 1 W 5 Depa rtment i i ABSTRACT ! In E nglish number agreement occurs between the surface subject and the verb of a sentence. L o g i c a l l y , the c h i l d must perform two operations to determine whether these l e x i c a l items agree. The c h i l d must f i r s t i d e n t i f y the surface subject and the verb, and secondly determine whether the number features of these items agree. Children are able to perform the f i r s t of these operations e a r l i e r than they are able to perform the second. To perform the second operation, the c h i l d must analyze the r e l a -t i o n between the number features of these items. The hypothesis was tested that c h i l d r e n w i l l be able to discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences when they are able to analyze the r e l a t i o n between the number features of l e x i c a l items in a sentence. Children were asked to judge the a c c e p t a b i l i t y of various sentences. Two predictions were made. If t h i s hypothesis is correct, c h i l d r e n should be able to discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences at the f i r s t point they are able to derive information by analyzing the r e l a t i o n between the number features of l e x i c a l items. Secondly, i f the point when chi l d r e n can discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences i s contingent upon the a c q u i s i t i o n of rules for analyzing the r e l a t i o n between the number features of l e x i c a l items, sentence structure should not a f f e c t the point at which chi l d r e n are able to do so. Neither of these predictions were confirmed, suggesting that t h i s hypothesis is incorrect. Ss' were able to decode semantic information e a r l i e r than they were able to decode agreement, even though both kinds of information are introduced by the r e l a t i o n between the number features of l e x i c a l items. Ss' judgements of sentences also indicated that sentence structure does a f f e c t the point at which c h i l d r e n are able to discriminate i i i between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences. It was suggested that the fact that agreement is a syntactic rule, as opposed to a semantic one, affects or determines the point when children are able to discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences. It was also suggested that sentence structure may act to constrain the accessibility of inflectional information in a sentence. It was suggested that these factors must be taken into account in a processing model of how children decode agreement. Table of Contents L i s t of Tables Abstract Introduction Method Results Discuss ion Bibliography Appendix I TABLE OF CONTENTS iv v i i 1 9 12 17 24 26 LIST OF TABLES Number I - Mean Number of Sentences Judged to Sound "Right" as a Function Sentence-Type, Semantic Well-Formedness and Syntactic Well-Formedness (Agreement) 1 Introduction Norman's (1973) model of questioning-answering has suggested, that the process of answering questions i s more complex than.it was previously thought to be. T r a d i t i o n a l l y , Norman states, models of question-answering have assumed that t h i s process consists of r e t r i e v i n g the relevant inform-a t i o n from memory, and.then responding with the appropriate answer. The algorithm for t h i s process would be as f o l l o w s : (i) search memory for the structure equivalent to the questioned item ( i i ) i f search is successful, respond with the appropriate answer ( i i i ) i f search i s not successful, respond, "I don't know." Norman suggests that t h i s model ove r s i m p l i f i e s the actual process of answering questions. In answering some questions ,. he states , people do not even bother searching.memory for the relevant information. One example of such a question i s : (1) What i s the telephone number, of Charles Dickens, the nov e l i s t ? If people do use the processing algorithm stated above to answer questions, they should respond to t h i s question by searching memory f i l e s for an a s s o c i -a t i o n between Charles Dickens and a telephone number. Because no such a s s o c i a t i o n w i l l e x i s t , . people should respond by. saying "I don't know." People do not,. however, respond i n t h i s way. They claim, conversely, not even to bother to search for an answer,.and simply r e j e c t the question as i l l e g i t i m a t e . Norman states that the way i n wmich people respond to questions l i k e (1) indicates that a large amount of preprocessing occurs before a search 2s. of memory is made. The way i n which people respond to such questions suggests that people i n i t i a l l y determine, among other things,.whether the question is legitimate. If the question is legitimate, a search of memory i s made. If i t is not, no search is i n i t i a t e d . The e s s e n t i a l c h a r a c t e r i s t i c of Norman's model of question-answering is that the processing of questions occurs i n sequential steps or stages. This assumption is shared by other researchers (e.g., Anderson & Bower, 1973; Smith,. Shoben & Rips, 1974). Anderson and Bower emphasize that l i n g u i s t i c information is accessed in a p a r t i c u l a r order, and that i t is processed i n d i s c r e t e steps. Perhaps the area in which a stage model has become most important is that of semantic memory. Smith, Shoben andi Rips use a stage model to account for the f i n d i n g that the amount of time necessary to disconfirm an anomolous sentence (e.g., A l l birds are chairs) is less than the amount of time necessary to confirm.a non-anomolous sentence. This f i n d i n g cannot be accounted for by the processing algorithm outlined above. That model predicts that the amount of time necessary to confirm a sentence w i l l , , on the whole, be less than the amount of time necessary to disconfirm a sentence. Smith, Shoben and Rips suggest that people seem to make a rapid i n i t i a l search to determine i f the information presented is anomolous, etc. If i t is anomolous, no search of memory is made, thereby accounting for the f i n d i n g mentioned above. The basic assumption of t h i s model, l i k e that of Norman, is that information is processed i n sequential stages. Questions as to how information i s i n f a c t processed may also be applied to the study of language a c q u i s i t i o n . The si n g l e most important reason for doing so is that t h i s kind of analysis may c l a r i f y how c h i l d r e n acquire l i n g u i s t i c r u l e s . T y p i c a l l y , when a c h i l d no longer v i o l a t e s a 3.' given l i n g u i s t i c r u l e , i t is inferred that the child-has acquired the r u l e , or added i t to the knowledge component (Kaplan, 1973) of his grammar. Thus, speech comprehension, for example, is thought to consist of an oper-ati o n whereby the input sentence is compared against the rules contained i n the knowledge component of the c h i l d ' s grammar. These rules assign a " s t r u c t u r a l d e s c r i p t i o n " (Chomsky, 1965) to the sentence, thereby decom-posing i t . The shortcoming of t h i s approach, from.a processing or psycho-l o g i c a l point of view, is that i t does not s p e c i f y how comprehension, i n f a c t occurs. Although i t formally accounts for speech comprehension, i t does not indicate how t h i s process a c t u a l l y takes place. That i s , i t does not indicate how the processing component (Kaplan) of the c h i l d ' s grammar applies the rules contained in the knowledge component to decompose sentences. The purpose of t h i s study is to examine some of the parameters which a f f e c t the decoding of agreement by c h i l d r e n . In other words, what oper-ations must the c h i l d perform to determine whether the subject and'the verb of a sentence agree? In En g l i s h number agreement occurs between the surface subject and the verb of a sentence. It is introduced by a [±] p l u r a l morpheme or i n f l e c t i o n on the surface subject and the verb. This feature on the surface subject and the verb w i l l be referred to as t h e i r number feature. Logically,, then, the c h i l d must perform two, ordered operations on a sentence to decode agreement. F i r s t , the c h i l d must determine which lex-i c a l item in the sentence is the surface subject, and which l e x i c a l item is the verb. Secondly, the c h i l d must analyze the r e l a t i o n between the number features of these items to determine whether or not they agree. Previous studies have indicated that c h i l d r e n , by about age four, 4. c o r r e c t l y mark or 'use' agreement in t h e i r spontaneous speech. Keeney and Wolfe (1972) report that the ch i l d r e n they observed, aged three to four, c o r r e c t l y marked agreement in 94% of "obligatory contexts" (see also Brown, 1973). That i s , they observed Eng l i s h agreement rules i n 94% of those s e n t e n t i a l contexts in which the use of these rules i s obligatory. However, when these ch i l d r e n were presented with verbs and with sentences marked s i n g u l a r l y or p l u r a l l y , andwere instructed to point to the picture ( s i n g u l a r / p l u r a l ) which the verbs and the sentences depicted, the c h i l d r e n performed at only chance l e v e l s . Keeney and Wolfe conclude that c h i l d r e n c o r r e c t l y mark agreement i n t h e i r spontaneous speech e a r l i e r than they comprehend the meaning of the singular and the p l u r a l i n f l e c t i o n . The f i r s t of the two operations that the c h i l d must perform to decode agreement is to i d e n t i f y the surface subject and the verb of the sentence. Several studies suggest that c h i l d r e n can i d e n t i f y these items r e l a t i v e l y e a r l y , or at least e a r l i e r than the point they use or can i d e n t i f y i n f l e c -tions (Brown & Fraser, 1963; M i l l e r & E r v i n , 1964). In the Brown and Fraser study,, c h i l d r e n , aged two to three, imitated simple English sentences. Whereas the c h i l d r e n tended to preserve nouns, verbs and adjectives, they tended to omit, among other things, i n f l e c t i o n a l a f f i x e s . Brown and Fraser report that t h i s was also true of the children's spontaneous speech. From the standpoint of adult English, these findings suggest that c h i l d r e n acquire rules for i d e n t i f y i n g these items e a r l i e r than rules governing the use of i n f l e c t i o n s ( M i l l e r , 1973). How the c h i l d a c t u a l l y i d e n t i f i e s the surface subject and the verb of a sentence is unclear. There are several models,. however, which account for t h i s equally well. The rules required to i d e n t i f y the surface subject 5. and the verb are roughly equivalent to the phrase s t r u c t u r e rules i n a generative grammar, such as that of Chomsky. A l t e r n a t i v e l y , Kaplan has suggested that an augmented t r a n s i t i o n network grammar can account for t h i s process. In t h i s kind of grammar, l e x i c a l items i n ; a sentence are assigned f u n c t i o n a l names — i . e . , subject, verb,, o b j e c t — b y means of sequential " t r a n s i t i o n arcs" which i n i t i a t e naming actions. Thus, the c h i l d would i d e n t i f y the surface subject and the verb by means of assigning f u n c t i o n a l names to the l e x i c a l items i n a sentence. The second operation that the c h i l d must perform to decode agreement is to determine whether the number features of the surface subject and the verb agree. After i d e n t i f y i n g the surface subject and the verb, the c h i l d must determine whether or not the number features of these items agree. To do so, the c h i l d must analyze the r e l a t i o n between the number features of these items. When, then, w i l l the c h i l d be able to decode agreement? When w i l l the c h i l d be able to discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences? Children are able,.as mentioned above, to i d e n t i f y the surface subject and. the verb of a sentence r e l a t i v e l y e a r l y . To decode agreement, the c h i l d must also analyze the r e l a t i o n between the number features of these items. Thus, the simplest hypothesis is that c h i l d r e n w i l l be able to discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences when they have acquired rules for analyzing the r e l a t i o n between the number features of l e x i c a l items i n a sentence. Hereafter, rules for analyzing the r e l a t i o n between the number features of l e x i c a l items i n a sentence w i l l be ref e r r e d to as R (for r e l a t i o n ) r u l e s . If the a b i l i t y to discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences is contingent upon the a c q u i s i t i o n of R r u l e s , several predictions 6. follow. The f i r s t p r e d i c t i o n follows d i r e c t l y from t h i s hypothesis. It is that at the point when ch i l d r e n demonstrate that they can derive i n f o r -mation by analyzing the r e l a t i o n between the number features of l e x i c a l items,. they w i l l be able to decode agreement. A l t e r n a t i v e l y , the kind of information encoded by the r e l a t i o n between the number features of l e x i c a l items may determine the developmental point at which c h i l d r e n are able to decode i t . For example, agreement is a synt a c t i c or a r b i t r a r y r e l a t i o n between constituents, as opposed to a semantic one. It is possible that the f a c t that agreement is an a r b i t r a r y r e l a t i o n between constituents may determine when c h i l d r e n are able to decode i t . Children might be able to decode semantic information e a r l i e r than they are able to decode agreement because of the d i f f e r i n g status of these kinds of information. The second p r e d i c t i o n that can be tested is a corollary, of t h i s hypothesis. If the point when chi l d r e n can discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences i s contingent s o l e l y upon the a c q u i s i t i o n of R rules,, i t follows that the a b i l i t y of chi l d r e n to do so w i l l not be affected by the structure of the input sentence. These predictions are examined i n turn below. Regarding the f i r s t p r e d i c t i o n , consider the following sentences: (2) Which bag are the apples in? * (3) Which bag is the apples in? * (4) Which bags is the apple in? * (5) Which bags are the apple in? In WH-questions such as these, the surface subject of the sentence is the postverbal noun phrase, i . e . , "apples", or "apple". Thus, the number feature of the verb is to agree with that of the noun phrase following i t . In t h i s sense sentence (2) is s y n t a c t i c a l l y well-formed. It is also semantlcally well-formed, and, hence grammatical. In sentence (3) the verb does not agree with the surface subject. The number feature of the verb agrees ( i n c o r r e c t l y ) with that of the object noun phrase. Sentence (3) i s , however, semantically well-formed. Sentences (4) and (5) are both, under normal circumstances, semantically ill-f o r m e d or anomolous. Both v i o l a t e r e s t r i c t i o n s that are en t a i l e d by the physical a t t r i b u t e s of the items "bags" and "apple". Under normal circumstances, one apple cannot be in several d i f f e r e n t bags simultaneously. But in sentence<(4) the surface subject and the verb do agree ( s y n t a c t i c a l l y well-formed), whereas in sentence (5) they do not ( s y n t a c t i c a l l y i l l -formed) . To determine whether these sentences are s y n t a c t i c a l l y well-formed— i . e . , whether the surface subject and the verb a g r e e — t h e c h i l d must analyze the r e l a t i o n between the number features of these items. To determine whether these sentences are semantically well-formed,. the c h i l d must analyze the r e l a t i o n between the number features of the surface sub-ject and the object noun phrase. If the c h i l d did not analyze the r e l a t i o n between the number features of the relevant l e x i c a l items i n these sentences, the c h i l d would not be able to detect whether these sentences were s y n t a c t i c a l l y w e l l - or i l l - f o r m e d , or_ semantically w e l l -or i l l - f o r m e d . Thus, both syntactic information.and semantic information is derived by analyzing the r e l a t i o n between the number features o f l l e x i c a l items i n these sentences. S p e c i f i c a l l y , then, the f i r s t p r e d i c t i o n to be tested is that c h i l d r e n , i n judging the a c c e p t a b i l i t y of these sentences, w i l l d i s c r i m i -nate between sentences (2) and (3), i . e . , decode synt a c t i c information, at the same developmental point when they discriminate between sentences 8 . (2) and (3) versus (4) and (5), i . e . , decode semantic information. If the point when chi l d r e n can decode agreement is contingent upon the a c q u i s i t i o n of R r u l e s , they should be able to do so at the f i r s t point at which they demonstrate that they can derive information by applying these r u l e s . Thus, c h i l d r e n should be able to decode syntactic inform-ation at the same point or e a r l i e r than they are able to decode semantic information. If c h i l d r e n were able to decode semantic information e a r l i e r than syntactic information, i t would imply that the decoding of agreement is not contingent upon the a c q u i s i t i o n of R rules alone. The second p r e d i c t i o n to be tested is that the structure of the input sentence w i l l not a f f e c t the decoding of agreement. If the point when ch i l d r e n can decode agreement is contingent upon the a c q u i s i t i o n of R r u l e s , the a b i l i t y of c h i l d r e n to do so should not be affected by the structure of a sentence. In other words, at the point when ch i l d r e n are able to discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences, t h e i r a b i l i t y to do so should not be r e s t r i c t e d to sentences of, for example, only one surface-ordering. Consider the following sentences: (6) Which monkey bit e s the horses? (7) Which monkeys b i t e the horse? *(8) Which monkey b i t e the horses? *(9) Which monkeys bit e s the horse? Though a l l of these sentences are semantically well-formed, only (6) and (7) are s y n t a c t i c a l l y well-formed. In sentence (8) and (9) the number feature of the verb agrees ( i n c o r r e c t l y ) with that of the object noun phrase, rather than with that of the surface subject. In WH-questions such as these, the surface subject precedes the verb which in turn precedes the object noun phrase. This ordering preserves a what may be c a l l e d the "canonical",, i . e . , base structure,• form of E n g l i s h sentences (Fodor, Bever & Garrett, 1974). This ordering i s also the most frequently used one i n English. In contrast, sentences (2-5) do not preserve t h i s ordering i n t h e i r surface structures. In these sentences, the surface, subject follows the verb. If the decoding of agreement is contingent upon the a c q u i s i t i o n of R r u l e s , i t should not be affected by the surface p o s i t i o n of subject and verb. Thus, the second p r e d i c t i o n states that at the point when ch i l d r e n can discriminate between sentences (6) and (7) versus (8) and (9), they w i l l also be able to discriminate between sentences (2) and (3), or v i c e -versa. In summary, two predictions are to be tested. Each follows from the hypothesis that c h i l d r e n w i l l be able to discriminate between.agreeing and non-agreeing sentences when they have acquired R r u l e s . The f i r s t p r e d i c t i o n is that c h i l d r e n w i l l be able to decode agreement at the f i r s t point they demonstrate they can decode information by applying these r u l e s . The second p r e d i c t i o n is that when ch i l d r e n are able to decode agreement, t h e i r a b i l i t y to do so w i l l not be r e s t r i c t e d to sentences ofronly one surface-ordering. If the point at which c h i l d r e n can do so is contingent upon the a c q u i s i t i o n of R r u l e s , the structure of a sentence should not a f f e c t t h i s . Method: To test these predictions c h i l d r e n were asked to judge the accept-a b i l i t y (or grammaticality) of a set of sentences s i m i l a r to ones (2-9). Children were i n d i v i d u a l l y read one sentence at a time, and were instructed to respond by saying whether the sentence sounded " r i g h t " or "wrong". i d . Before t e s t i n g began, the task was demonstrated to the c h i l d . F i r s t the c h i l d was read a sentence in two contrasting forms: i n the f i r s t , surface subject and verb agreed (e.g., Which boy goes to school?); i n the second,. surf ace subject and verb did not agree (e.g., *Which boy go  to school?). The c h i l d was t o l d that the two sentences sounded d i f f e r e n t ; that the f i r s t one sounded " r i g h t " , and that the second one sounded "wrong" or "funny". Several more contrasts were then made by the experimenter. The purpose of these instructions was to. demonstrate to the c h i l d that he was to judge the grammaticality of the. t e s t sentence, rather than answer i t (e.g., "Daniel goes to school."). The c h i l d was then presented with several more contrasting sentences, and asked i f they sounded " r i g h t " or "wrong". Ss' who were able to judge ( c o r r e c t l y or i n c o r r e c t l y ) the a c c e p t a b i l i t y • o f these sentences, i . e . , t r i e d to answer the questions or did not understand the task, were eliminated from.further t e s t i n g . (Three c h i l d r e n , age f i v e , were eliminated for t h i s reason). To t e s t the f i r s t p r e d i c t i o n Ss' were presented with 16 sentences ; s i m i l a r to sentences (2-5) above (Cf. Appendix I ) . In a l l of these sentences the surface subject was the postverbal noun phrase. These sentences are c a l l e d Type II sentences. Half of these sentences were semantically w e l l -formed, and half were semantically i l l - f o r m e d . In half of the semantically well-formed and the ill-formed sentences, the surface subject and the verb agreed. In the other h a l f , the number feature of the verb agreed ( i n -c o r r e c t l y ) with that of the object noun phrase, rather than with that of the surface subject. A l l t e s t sentences were constructed so that the number feature of the surface subject and the object noun phrase d i f f e r e d from each other. To t e s t the second pr e d i c t i o n Ss' were also presented with eight 11. sentences s i m i l a r to sentences (6-9). In a l l of these sentences the surface subject was the preverbal noun phrase. These sentences are c a l l e d Type I sentences. Each of these sentences was semantically well-formed. In half the surface subject and the verb agreed ( s y n t a c t i c a l l y well-formed); in the other half the surface subject and the verb did not agree ( s y n t a c t i -c a l l y i l l - f o r m e d ) . Like the Type II sentences, a l l sentences were constructed so that the number feature of the surface subject and the object noun phrase d i f f e r e d from each other. Thus, i n half of the syn-t a c t i c a l l y well-formed and the ill-f o r m e d sentences, the surface subject was singular and the object was p l u r a l . In the other h a l f , the surface subject was p l u r a l and the object was singular. Each c h i l d was also presented with eight sentences i n which grammatical word order was destroyed (e.g., *Bird-which snakes the watches?). (Thus, each c h i l d was presented with 32 sentences in a l l . ) The reason for including these sentences was to determine whether the c h i l d could judge the t e s t sentences on the basis of t h e i r grammaticality, as opposed to responding to them as propositions. Since the c h i l d was to judge the grammaticality of the t e s t sentences, regardless of t h e i r propositional content, a measure of the child's a b i l i t y to do so is necessary. Children, who were unable to c o r r e c t l y judge the a c c e p t a b i l i t y of these sentences, were inferred to be unable to judge the other t e s t sentences on the basis of t h e i r grammaticality, and were eliminated from further t e s t i n g . No Ss' were eliminated for t h i s reason. A l l Ss' were able to c o r r e c t l y discriminate ( i . e . , i n the appropriate d i r e c t i o n ) between these sentences and Type I sentences, i . e . , ones in which grammatical word order was preserved (F (1,57) = 117.90 , p_<.001). To counter the possible influence of a set e f f e c t , no noun was used 12. more than once in the t e s t sentences. Nouns in the Type II sentences wtre drawn from a l i s t of common containers and items (e.g., jar t basket, bananas, oranges). Nouns i n the Type I sentences were drawn from a l i s t of animals whose names chil d r e n were assumed to be f a m i l i a r with (e.g., t i g e r , b i r d , monkey). The verb i n the Type II sentences was the singular or plural, form of "be". The verbs in the Type I sentences were the singular or p l u r a l forms of " b i t e " , "chase", "hear" and "watch". These verbs were balanced.across the Type I sentences. Order of presentation of the t e s t sentences was randomized across Ss'. Ss' were 60 ch i l d r e n at three age l e v e l s . The youngest group was chosen from c h i l d r e n aged 5;0 to 6;6. A second group was chosen from c h i l d r e n aged 7;0 to 8;6. The oldest group was chosen from c h i l d r e n aged 10;0 to 11;6. The mean age of each group was 6;0;14, 8;0;3,. and 10;10;6. re s p e c t i v e l y . The youngest group consisted of eight males and twelve females, the second group of nine males and eleven females, and the oldest group of s i x males and:fourteen females. A l l Ss' spoke English as a f i r s t language. The socio-economic status of the c h i l d r e n ranged from lower-middle to middle c l a s s . Results: . Ss' judgments of the t e s t sentences are presented in Table I. The values i n Table I represent the mean number of sentences that Ss' judged to sound "r i g h t u . As can be seen in Table I, one c e l l i n the design is missing. Ss' were presented with semantically-well-formed and ill-f o r m e d Type II sentences, but only with semantically well-formed Type I sentences. The reason for t h i s is as follows. F i r s t , semantically ill-f o r m e d Type I sentences cannot be constructed by permuting the number features of TABLE I Mean Number of Sentences Judged to Sound "Right" as a Function of Sentence-Type, Semantic Well-Formedness and Syntactic Well-Formedness (Agreement)* Type I Semantically Well-formed S y n t a c t i c a l l y S y n t a c t i c a l l y Well-formed Ill-formed (+Agreement) (-Agreement) Type II Semantically Well-formed S y n t a c t i c a l l y S y n t a c t i c a l l y Well-formed Ill-formed (+Agreement) (-Agreement) Semantically Ill-formed S y n t a c t i c a l l y Well-formed (+Agreement) S y n t a c t i c a l l y Ill-formed (-Agreement) Age I (5;0 - 6;6) 1.85 1.65 2.75 2.90 2.80 2.20 Age II (7;0 - 8;6) 2.30 1.05 3.55 3.15 1.25 1.55 Age III (10;0 - 11;6) 3.05 ,70 3.20 3.10 65 1.25 * Children were presented with four sentences of each kind. l e x i c a l items i n them. Thus, i n p r i n c i p l e no comparison is possible between children's judgments of such sentences and the t e s t sentences. Secondly, even i f i t were possible to construct semantically ill-f o r m e d Type I sentences i n t h i s manner, no predictions were made regarding children's judgments of them. Since one c e l l is missing, two separate analyses of the children's judgments of the t e s t sentences were made, corresponding to the two predictions made. Since two analyses were made, i t is to be cautioned that some of the r e s u l t s of these analyses are, i n a s t a t i s t i c a l sense, redundant. The r e s u l t s are, however, quite strong and i n t h i s sense r e l a t i v e l y straightforward. The f i r s t p r e d i c t i o n was that c h i l d r e n w i l l be able to decode agree-ment at the point when they have acquired R r u l e s . Thus, at the point when ch i l d r e n demonstrate that they can derive information by applying these r u l e s , they should, i n judging the t e s t sentences, also be able to discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences. To t e s t t h i s p r e d i c t i o n , Ss' judgments of semantically well-formed and ill - f o r m e d agreeing and non-agreeing (Type II) sentences were compared, in'a 3x2x2 f a c t o r i a l design (AGE=three l e v e l s , SEMANTIC=two l e v e l s , AGREEMENT=two l e v e l s ) . If t h i s p r e d i c t i o n is correct, Ss', in judging the test sentences, should discriminate between semantically well-formed agreeing and.non-agreeing sentences at the same point or e a r l i e r ( in terms of AGE level) than they discriminate between semantically well-formed and semantically ill- f o r m e d sentences. I f , on the other hand, Ss' were able to discriminate between semantically well-formed: and semantically i l l -formed sentences e a r l i e r than they were able to discriminate between semantically well-formed agreeing and non-agreeing sentences, i t would 15. suggest that t h i s p r e d i c t i o n is incorrect. This would suggest that the point when ch i l d r e n can decode agreement is affected by the f a c t that agreement is a syntactic r u l e , as opposed to a semantic one. The main e f f e c t for the SEMANTIC factor- was s i g n i f i c a n t (F(l,57)= 141.48, p_ <.001). The ef f e c t s of t h i s factor are c l e a r l y evident i n Table I. The main e f f e c t for AGE was also s i g n i f i c a n t (£(2,57)=3.92, p_ <.05). Both effects are q u a l i f i e d by the AGE x SEMANTIC i n t e r a c t i o n (F(2 ,57)=21.97 , _p, <.001). Analysis of t h i s i n t e r a c t i o n revealed that the youngest c h i l d r e n , aged 5;0 to 6;6, did not discriminate between semantically well-formed and semantically ill-formed (Type II) sentences ( F ( l ,57) = 1.12, p <1). On the other hand, the two older groups of chi l d r e n did detect whether the Type II sentences were semantically w e l l -formed or ill-formed ( F ( l ,57-)=40.29 , p <.001; F(l,57) = 51.29 , p <.001). S i g n i f i c a n t l y , no main e f f e c t f o r AGREEMENT was found (F(1,57) = .01, p <1), nor was an i n t e r a c t i o n between AGREEMENT and the SEMANTIC factor found (F(l,57)=.69, p <1). If the pr e d i c t i o n made had been correct, the AGREE-MENT f a c t o r , or at least the AGREEMENT x SEMANTIC i n t e r a c t i o n , should have been s i g n i f i c a n t . The i n t e r a c t i o n between AGREEMENT and AGE was also non-significant (F(2,57)=1.63, p <1), as was the t r i p l e i n t e r a c t i o n between AGREEMENT, AGE and the SEMANTIC factor (F(2,57)=3.04, p <1). The second pr e d i c t i o n that was made was that at the point c h i l d r e n can discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences,. t h e i r a b i l i t y to do so should not be r e s t r i c t e d to sentences of only one surface-ordering. If the point when chil d r e n can decode agreement is contingent s o l e l y upon the a c q u i s i t i o n of R r u l e s , t h e i r a b i l i t y to do so should not be affected by the structure of a sentence. To te s t t h i s p r e d i c t i o n , Ss* judgments of (semantically well-formed) agreeing and 16. non-agreeing Type I and Type II sentences were compared, i n a 3x2x2 f a c t o r i a l design (AGE=three l e v e l s , SENTENCE-TYPE=two l e v e l s , AGREEMENT= two l e v e l s ) . If t h i s p r e d i c t i o n is correct, the AGREEMENT main e f f e c t should be s i g n i f i c a n t . Furthermore, i f i t is corr e c t , the i n t e r a c t i o n between SENTENCE-TYPE and AGREEMENT should not be s i g n i f i c a n t . The main e f f e c t for AGREEMENT was s i g n i f i c a n t (F(l,57)=38.40, p<.001). By i t s e l f t h i s suggests that the point when chil d r e n can decode agreement is not affected by the structure of a sentence. However, the main e f f e c t for SENTENCE-TYPE was also s i g n i f i c a n t (F(l,57) = 107.04, j? <.001), as was the i n t e r a c t i o n between SENTENCE-TYPE and AGREEMENT _(F(1,57>)=23.21, p <.001). Analysis of t h i s i n t e r a c t i o n revealed that Ss' were able to discriminate between (semantically well-formed) agreeing and non-agreeing Type I sentences (F(l,114)=20.03, p <.001), but not between (semantically well-formed) agreeing and non-agreeing Type II sentences (F(l,114)=.17, p <1). The main e f f e c t for AGE was non-significant (F(2,57)=.85, £ <1), as was the i n t e r a c t i o n between AGE and SENTENCE-TYPE (F(2,57)=1.85, p <1). The AGE x AGREEMENT i n t e r a c t i o n was s i g n i f i c a n t (F(2 ,57)=9.99, £ <.01). Analysis of t h i s i n t e r a c t i o n revealed.that the youngest ch i l d r e n were not able to discriminate between (semantically well-formed) agreeing and non-agreeing sentences (F(1,57)=.01, p <1). Conversely, the two older groups of c h i l d r e n were able to discriminate between (semantically well-formed) agreeing and non-agreeing sentences (F(1,57)=9.10, p <.01; F(l,57)=20,07, p <.001). The t r i p l e i n t e r a c t i o n between AGE, SENTENCE-TYPE and AGREEMENT was also s i g n i f i c a n t (F(2,57) = 5.68, _p_ <.01). Analysis of t h i s i n t e r a c t i o n indicated that the youngest c h i l d r e n were not able to discriminate between (semantically well-formed) agreeing and non-agreeing Type I or Type II sentences (F(l,114)=.49, p <1; F(l,114)=.28,.D_ <1). Unlike the youngest c h i l d r e n , Ss' aged 7;0 to 8;6 did discriminate between (semantically-well-17. formed) agreeing and non-agreeing Type I sentences ( F ( l , 114) = 19.50 , j> <.001). However, these c h i l d r e n were not able to discriminate between Type II sentences of the same kind (F(l,114)=1.99, p < x ) « T h i s pattern was also true of the oldest Ss', aged 10;0 to 11;6. Although they were able to discriminate between (semantically well-formed). agreeing and non-agreeing Type I sentences (F(l,114)=69.43, _p <.001), they were not able to discriminate between Type II sentences of the same kind (F(l,114)=.12, P <D. Discuss ion: The r e s u l t s of the f i r s t analysis suggest that the f i r s t p r e d i c t i o n made is incorrect. S p e c i f i c a l l y , , they suggest that the point at which ch i l d r e n can decode agreement is not contingent upon the a c q u i s i t i o n of R rules alone. This is suggested by the f i n d i n g that Ss' aged 7;0 to 8;6, in judging the t e s t sentences, discriminated between semantically w e l l -formed and semantically i l l - f o r m e d (Type II) sentences, but did not discriminate between semantically wel1-formed; agreeing and non-agreeing (Type II) ones. Thus, at the point when Ss' were able to discriminate between semantically well-formed and i l l - f o r m e d (Type II) sentences, they, s t i l l were not able to discriminate between semantically well-formed agreeing and non-agreeing (Type II) ones. This suggests that the point at which c h i l d r e n can decode information introduced by the r e l a t i o n between the number features of l e x i c a l items is affected by the status of the information encoded, namely whether i t is syntactic or semantic in nature. The f a c t that both kinds of information are derived by the same operation does not seem to r e s u l t i n c h i l d r e n decoding both kinds of information at the same developmental point. Thus, the point at which c h i l d r e n can decode agreement is not contingent upon 18. t the a c q u i s i t i o n of R rules alone. At the point at which Ss' demonstrated that they could derive information by applying these r u l e s , they s t i l l could not decode agreement. The r e s u l t s obtained suggest that at t h i s point Ss* were s t i l l not able to detect any differences between (semantically well-formed) agreeing and non-agreeing Type II sentences. The fa c t that agreement is a syntactic phenomenon, as opposed to a semantic one, must in some way constrain the a p p l i c a t i o n of R rules to a sentence. / The f a c t that the adult speaker w i l l judge semantically i l l - f o r m e d sentences to be unacceptable (or less acceptable) implies that during the process of sentence-decoding a person performs operations which determine whether a sentence is semantically well-formed. The f a c t that the adult speaker w i l l judge sentences, i n which surface subject and verb do not agree, to be unacceptable implies that a person also performs operations which determine whether a sentence is s y n t a c t i c a l l y well-formed. This implies that the adult speaker analyses every sentence, be i t grammatical or ungrammatical, on each of these dimensions. In f a c t , such operations account for speech comprehension or sentence decomposition. The two older groups of Ss' judgments of the Type II t e s t sentences suggest that c h i l d r e n acquire rules for decoding semantic information, introduced by i n f l e c t i o n s , e a r l i e r than they acquire rules for decoding syntactic information, introduced by i n f l e c t i o n s . The f i n d i n g that the older Ss' were able to decode semantic inform-at i o n , but not syntactic information, is consistent with what Siegler (1976) c a l l s the "encoding hypothesis". B r i e f l y , Siegler suggests that younger c h i l d r e n encode s t i m u l i on fewer dimensions than older c h i l d r e n do. He found that younger children benefited less from experience (or 19. learning t r i a l s ) than older children d i d , not because they were slower or misunderstood the experimental task, but because they encoded the task s t i m u l i on fewer dimensions. The implication of t h i s f i n d i n g is that with age the c h i l d analyzes and encodes information presented to him on an increasing number of dimensions. The reason why Ss' were able to decode semantic information, but were not yet able to decode synt a c t i c information, may ultimately be " f u n c t i o n a l " , or have what may be c a l l e d a "pragmatic" b a s i s . Usually, sentences refer to r e a l events and s i t u a t i o n s . Since t h i s is the case, i t seems l i k e l y that the c h i l d , i n learning a language, would be sens i -t i v e to semantic constraints on sentences e a r l i e r than he would be s e n s i -t i v e to syntactic or a r b i t r a r y constraints on sentences. In the sense that sentences refer to r e a l events and s i t u a t i o n s , semantic information in a sentence i s more informative than syntactic information. For example, sentences i n which surface subject and verb do not agree seem, i n t u i t i v e l y , to be ungrammatical in only a t r i f l i n g sort of way. Semantically i l l -formed sentences seem to be ungrammatical i n a much more s i g n i f i c a n t way. V i o l a t i o n s of semantic constraints a l t e r a sentence's meaning i n a much more s i g n i f i c a n t way than do v i o l a t i o n s of syntactic constraints (Chomsky, 1961). Thus, there may be " f u n c t i o n a l " or "adaptive" reasons for acquiring rules for decoding semantic information e a r l i e r than rules for decoding syntactic information. Semantic information is simply more informative than syn t a c t i c information. In f a c t , t h i s is consistent with r e s u l t s reported by de V i l l i e r s and de V i l l i e r s (1972). They found that c h i l d r e n were able to appropriately judge semantically well-formed and ill-fo r m e d sentences (e.g., Throw the  stone vs. Throw the sky) e a r l i e r than they were able to appropriately judge s y n t a c t i c a l l y well-formed and ill-fo r m e d sentences (e.g., Brush  your teeth vs. Teeth your brush). 20. From a processing point of view, however, i t i s unclear why the two older groups of Ss' were able to discriminate between semantically w e l l -formed and semantically ill-f o r m e d (Type II) sentences, but not between semantically well-formed-agreeing and non-agreeing (Type II) ones. The f a c t that they did discriminate between.semantically well-formed and i l l -formed Type II sentences demonstrates that they did apply R rules to these sentences. Thus, why were these c h i l d r e n unable to discriminate between semantically well-formed: agreeing and non-agreeing Type II sentences. The reason for t h i s may be that during sentence decoding a person makes two (and presumably more) 'passes' on a sentence—one to determine whether i n f l e c t i o n a l information v i o l a t e s semantic constraints, and another to determine whether t h i s information v i o l a t e s syntactic constraints. During the f i r s t pass a person would apply R rules to the sentence. The purpose of t h i s operation would be to determine whether semantic constraints have been v i o l a t e d . During a second pass a person would perform the same operation, but i n t h i s case to determine whether synt a c t i c constraints have been v i o l a t e d . If the decoding of i n f l e c t i o n a l information is thought to consist of several d i f f e r e n t stages, the f i n d i n g that the older Ss' discriminated between semantically well-formed and i l l - f o r m e d (Type II) sentences, but not between semantically well-formed agreeing and non-agreeing (Type II) sentences is e a s i l y interpretable. It would mean that at t h i s age Ss' had not yet acquired mechanisms to make a second pass on i n f l e c t i o n a l information i n these sentences. Although t h i s model is admittedly ad hoc, i t can account for the r e s u l t s obtained. If i t is thought that R rules are applied.only once to i n f l e c t i o n a l information, these r e s u l t s cannot be explained. These 21. r e s u l t s suggest that the processing component (Kaplan) of the ch i l d ' s grammar applies R rules to a sentence in at least two d i s c r e t e stages; f i r s t to determine whether semantic constraints have been violated,. and secondly to determine whether syntactic constraints have been v i o l a t e d . The second pr e d i c t i o n that was made was that when ch i l d r e n are able to decode agreement, t h e i r a b i l i t y to do so w i l l not be r e s t r i c t e d to sentences of only one surface-ordering. The r e s u l t s of the second analysis do not confirm, t h i s p r e d i c t i o n , as is evident in Table I. F i r s t , the f i n d i n g that the youngest Ss' did not discriminate be-tween (semantically well-formed) agreeing and non-agreeing Type I or Type II sentences suggests that these c h i l d r e n did not use i n f l e c t i o n a l information i n judging the t e s t sentences. This is also suggested by the f i n d i n g that these children did not discriminate between semantically well-formed and semantically i l l - f o r m e d Type II sentences. If these c h i l d r e n had used i n f l e c t i o n a l information i n the t e s t sentences to judge them, i t follows that they would have discriminated between semantically well-formed and ill-formed Type I I sentences, and between (semantically well-formed) agreeing and non-agreeing sentences of each sentence type. In t h i s sense, these r e s u l t s are consistent with (though do not confirm) the hypothesis that c h i l d r e n w i l l be able to decode agreement when they have acquired R r u l e s . The youngest Ss' judgments of the test sentences provide no evidence that they were able to analyze the r e l a t i o n between the number features of l e x i c a l items in these sentences, or that they were able to discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences. But at the point when Ss' were able to discriminate between (semantically well-formed) agreeing and non-agreeing Type I sentences, they were s t i l l not able to discriminate between Type II sentences of the 22. same kind. Thus, the r e s u l t s obtained for the two older groups of Ss* indicate that t h i s p r e d i c t i o n is incorrect. The surface-ordering of a sentence does a f f e c t the decoding of agreement. The f a c t that the two older groups of c h i l d r e n were able to d i s -criminate between (semantically well-formed) agreeing and non-agreeing Type I sentences, but only between semantically well-formed and i l l -formed Type II sentences, may demonstrate how sentence structure a f f e c t s the decoding of information introduced by i n f l e c t i o n s . Each of the Type I sentences is semantically well-formed. Since Ss' were asked whether the t e s t sentences sounded " r i g h t " or "wrong", i t may "be inferred that Ss' considered the Type I sentences they judged to sound " r i g h t " to be semantically and s y n t a c t i c a l l y well-formed. Ss' were not asked:to judge whether the t e s t sentences were semantically w e l l - or i l l -formed, or s y n t a c t i c a l l y w e l l - or i l l - f o r m e d . They were asked to judge whether the sentences sounded " r i g h t " or "wrong". If t h i s inference is correct, the r e s u l t s obtained suggest that the older Ss' were able to appropriately judge the semantic and,the syntactic well/ill-formedness of the Type I sentences, but only the semantic well/ill-formedness of thee Type II sentences. If t h i s is correct, these r e s u l t s suggest that the way i n which sentence structure a f f e c t s the decoding of information is to l i m i t the extent to which the sentence is processed,, or the number of operations that are performed on i t . The reason why the older groups of Ss' did not discriminate between semantically well-formed agreeing and non-agreeing Type II sentences may simply be that they did not perform operations on them to determine whether the surface subject and the verb agreed. The re s u l t s obtained suggest that they only performed operations to determine whether these sentences were semantically. well-formed or 23. semantically ill-formed. They suggest that at this age children are only able to decode agreement in sentences in which the surface subject is the preverbal noun phrase. In summary,, there are two logical requirements that must be f u l f i l l e d to decode agreement. Logically, the child must identify the surface subject and the verb of a sentence,. and secondly determine whether the number features of these items agree. Thus, in the course of development, the child must acquire rules to perform these operations and add them to thei;"knowledge component" of his grammar. Clearly, i f the child did not acquire these rules, the child would not be able to decode agreement. The results obtained in this study suggest that the way in which these rules are applied i s , however,. somewhat more complex. These results suggest that the decoding of agreement by children—and the point at which they are able to do s o — i s more complex than these logical requirements would indicate. F i r s t , the fact that agreement is a syntactic rule, as opposed; to a semantic one, seems to increase the d i f f i c u l t y of learning i t . Before children can decode agreement, they can already decode semantic information—even-though this information is derived in the same way as information regarding agreement. It seems that the point at which children can decode agreement is affected by the arbitrary nature of agreement rules. Secondly, the structure of a sentence seems to constrain the accessibility of inflectional information in i t . Children,are able to decode agreement in sentences in which the surface subject is the preverbal noun phrase earlier than they are able to do so with sentences in which the surface subject is the postverbal noun,phrase. These findings suggest that an adequate model of how children decode agreement must take into account the arbitrary nature of agreement rules and the constraining effect of sentence structure. 24. BIBLIOGRAPHY Anderson, John R., & Bower, Gordon H. Human Associative Memory. Washington, D.C.: V.H. Winston & Sons,. 1973. Brown, Roger. A F i r s t Language: The Early Stages. Cambridge: Harvard Un i v e r s i t y Press, 1973. Brown, Roger, & Fraser, C o l i n . The a c q u i s i t i o n of syntax. In Charles N. Cofer & Barbara Musgrave (Eds.), Verbal Behavior and Learning:  Problems and Processes. New York:. McGraw-Hill, 1963. pp. 158-201. Chomsky, Noam. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge:. M .1.T. Press, 1965. Chomsky, Noam. Some methodological remarks on generative grammar. Word, 1961, 17, 219-239. de V i l l i e r s , Peter A., & de V i l l i e r s , J i l l G. Early judgements of semantic and syntactic a c c e p t a b i l i t y by c h i l d r e n . Journal of  Psycho l i n g u i s t i c Research, 1972,. 1, No. 4,. 299-310. Fodor, J.A., Bever, T.G.,. & Garrett, M.F. The Psychology of Language:  An Introduction to Psycho l i n g u i s t i e s and Generative Grammar. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974. Kaplan, Ronald M. On process models for sentence a n a l y s i s . In Donald A.. Norman & David E. Rumelhart (Eds.), Explorations i n Cognition. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1975, pp. 117-135. Keeney, Terrence J . , & Wolfe, Jean. The a c q u i s i t i o n of agreement i n English. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 1972, 2, 698-705. M i l l e r , Wick R. The a c q u i s i t i o n of grammatical rules by c h i l d r e n . In Charles A. Ferguson & Dan I. Slobin (Eds.), Studies of C h i l d Language  Development. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1973, pp. 380-391.'"'" M i l l e r , Wick R., & E r v i n , Susan M. The development of grammar i n . c h i l d language. In Ursula B e l l u g i & Roger Brown (Eds.), The A c q u i s i t i o n of  Language. Monographs of the Society f or Research i n Ch i l d Development, 1964, 29, No. 1, pp. 9-33. Norman, Donald A. Memory, knowledge and the answering of questions. In Robert L. Solso (Ed.), Contemporary Issues i n Cognitive Psychology: The Loyola Symposium. Washington, D.C.: V.H. Winston & Sons, 1973, pp. 135-165. / 25. S i e g l e r , Robert S. Three aspects of cognitive development. Cognitive  Psychology, 1976, 8, 481-520. Smith, E.E., Shoben, E.J., & Rips, L.J. Structure and process i n semantic memory: A feature model for semantic decisions. Psychological Review,, 1974, 81,. 214-241. 26. APPENDIX I Type I sentences Which monkey bite s the horses? Which cow chases the dogs? Which pigs hear the chicken? Which cats watch the mosquito? *Which g o r i l l a chase the lions? *Which b u l l hear the ducks? *Which foxes watches the t i g e r ? *Which t u r t l e s b i t e s the l i z a r d ? Type II sentences Which cup are the bananas in? Which box are the pears in? Which pot are the apples in? Which bag are the oranges in? *Which closet is the books in? *Which room is the cherries in? *Which basket is the potatoes in? *Which corner i s the flowers in? *Which bowls Is the peach in? *Which jars i s the plum in? *Which drawers is the toy in? *Which pans is the tomato in? *Which p a i l s are the apricot in? *Which caves are the rock in? *Which buckets are the brush in? *Which plates are the melon in? 

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