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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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

Abstract

In English number agreement occurs between the surface subject and the verb of a sentence. Logically, the child must perform two operations to determine whether these lexical items agree. The child must first identify the surface subject and the verb, and secondly determine whether the number features of these items agree. Children are able to perform the first of these operations earlier than they are able to perform the second. To perform the second operation, the child must analyze the relation between the number features of these items. The hypothesis was tested that children will be able to discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences when they are able to analyze the relation between the number features of lexical items in a sentence. Children were asked to judge the acceptability of various sentences. Two predictions were made. If this hypothesis is correct, children should be able to discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences at the first point they are able to derive information by analyzing the relation between the number features of lexical items. Secondly, if the point when children can discriminate between agreeing and non-agreeing sentences is contingent upon the acquisition of rules for analyzing the relation between the number features of lexical items, sentence structure should not affect the point at which children are able to do so. Neither of these predictions were confirmed, suggesting that this hypothesis is incorrect. Ss' were able to decode semantic information earlier than they were able to decode agreement, even though both kinds of information are introduced by the relation between the number features of lexical items. Ss' judgements of sentences also indicated that sentence structure does affect the point at which children are able to discriminate 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.

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