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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Acquisition of noun modifiers : the relative clause and descriptive adjective Lippman, Marica Zoe

Abstract

Spontaneous production. Imitation, and Comprehension procedures were used to (a) investigate the acquisition of the adjectival relative clause and descriptive adjective, and (b) to examine the predictive adequacy of two performance models, the Yngve Depth Hypothesis and Transformation Hypothesis. Average mean depth and number of transformational operations were used as predictive indices. Subjects were 20 nursery school children, divided into two groups of 10 each, Group 2-3 (mean age 3.6 years) and Group 4-5 (mean age 5.0 years). Subjects were individually tested in three to five sessions on all three procedures and on two tasks within each procedure. Stimuli consisted of two sets of sentences and pictures, Task 1 and Task 2. Task 1 consisted of 36 sentences which varied according to three criteria: Syntax (relative or simple); Embeddedness [end-(2 levels) or self-embedded]; and Pronoun Use (subject, object or object of preposition). Task 2 consisted of 96 sentences which varied according to three criteria: Syntax (adjective, relative or simple); Type of adjective (base or derived); and Embeddedness [end-(3 levels) or self-embedded]. Corresponding to each sentence content was a set of four pictures (Task 1) or pairs of pictures (Task 2) which served as response alternatives during the Comprehension Procedure. Sixty of the pictures were also used as stimulus materials for Spontaneous Production. Dependent measures were number correct (Imitation and Comprehension), latency (Comprehension), number of responses in three error categories (Task 1 Comprehension), and percentage of responses in 12 error categories (Imitation). Spontaneous production results were presented by examples. Age was found to be a highly significant factor in all analyses of number correct for both tasks and procedures, Group 2-3 performing poorer than Group 4-5. On Tasks 1 and 2, Syntax and Embeddedness were significant factors for Imitation but not Comprehension (number correct). On the Task 1 Imitation Procedure, a Simple > Relative ordering of Syntax means was obtained which was consistent with predictions from both models. On Task 2, however, the obtained Adjective > Simple > Relative ordering of Syntax means was consistent with the predictions made from the Depth Hypothesis but not those made from the Transformation Hypothesis. Adjective sentences were expected to be more difficult than Relative according to the latter hypothesis. The finding of poorer performance on self-embedded Relative sentences than on end-embedded or control Simple sentences on Tasks 1 and 2 for Imitation was also consistent with only the Depth Hypothesis, the Transformation Hypothesis predicting no differences since the sentences did not differ in type or number of transformations. Results of the Comprehension and Imitation Procedures allowed for ordering of means according to difficulty but revealed little about the early form of knowledge of single- or multiple-word modifiers. Qualitative analysis of imitation errors and spontaneous production data proved more fruitful. It was found that (1) the Noun Phrase + with + Noun Phrase and Noun Phrase + participle phrase were earlier occurring forms of multiple- word noun modification than the relative clause; (2) the relative clause did not precede the descriptive adjective in production as would be expected on the basis of the Transformation Hypothesis; (3) even the oldest Ss showed little differentiation of the relative pronoun in imitation or spontaneous production; and (4) self-embedded relative clause sentences never occurred in the spontaneous production protocols. Few errors were made in imitation of Adjective sentences or in spontaneous production; all Ss used adjectives in the nominal productively. It was concluded that neither performance model allowed for adequate description or prediction of performance. The Yngve model ignores the relationship between sentences of differing structure and the Transformation model fails to take into account the sequential nature of production and comprehension. Features of a more adequate model were discussed.

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