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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pronominal anaphoric reference in the narratives of 3-year-old children Gomme, Norma Jean


The general purpose of the present study was to investigate the way in which 3-year-old children use pronouns to refer to characters in a narrative. A form/function approach was taken, exploring not only the forms used to refer to story protagonists, but also the functions those forms served to create coherence in the narrative as a whole. The study had three specific goals. The first of these was to compare the results of this study with those of Bamberg (1987), specifically to determine whether the 3-year-old English-speaking children in this study were using the same reference strategy as the 3-year-old German-speaking children in Bamberg’s study (the thematic advancement strategy). The second goal was to compare the children’s referential use of pronouns at times when they were unfamiliar and familiar with the story. The third goal was to compare the results of this study with those of Karmiloff-Smith (1981) in an attempt to resolve differences between her study and Bamberg’s regarding the age at which children move from deictic to referential use of pronouns, and the exact nature of the thematic advancement strategy. Ten English-speaking children between the ages of 3;2.3 and 3;9.12 participated in this study. Each child told two stories, first when they were unfamiliar with the book ( T₁), and again after reading the book with their caregiver(s) over the course of a week ( T₂). Results showed that these children as a group demonstrated the developing ability to create textual coherence through pronominal reference in a manner consistent with Bamberg’s thematic advancement strategy. Closer analysis of individual stories pointed to the presence of several substrategies, and showed developmental variation in the children’s abilities to use pronouns referentially. No significant difference was found in the children’s referential use of pronouns between T₁ and T₂, although other developmental measures showed improvement with story familiarity. Further, the results did not provide evidence for purely deictic use of pronouns, or the inability to create any level of textual coherence as found by Karmiloff-Smith for English-speaking 4-year-olds. Results also disputed Karmiloff-Smith’s proposal that the thematic subject strategy involves exclusive preference for clause-initial position to be reserved for reference to the protagonist. It is proposed here that differences between the studies can be attributed to variation in experimental design.

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