Preschoolers’ comprehension of pronouns and
reflexives: The impact of the task
Bergmann, C., Paulus, M., & Fikkert, P.
Preschoolers’ comprehension of pronouns and reflexives: The impact of the task. Journal of Child Language, 39
, 777-803. doi:10.1017/S0305000911000298.
Pronouns seem to be acquired in an asymmetrical way, where children
confuse the meaning of pronouns with reflexives up to the age of six,
but not vice versa. Children’s production of the same referential
expressions is appropriate at the age of four. However, response-based
tasks, the usual means to investigate child language comprehension, are
very demanding given children’s limited cognitive resources.
Therefore, they might affect performance. To assess the impact of the
task, we investigated learners of Dutch (three- and four-year-olds)
using both eye-tracking, a non-demanding on-line method, and a
typical response-based task. Eye-tracking results show an emerging
ability to correctly comprehend pronouns at the age of four.
A response-based task fails to indicate this ability across age groups,
replicating results of earlier studies. Additionally, biases seem to
influence the outcome of the response-based task. These results add
new evidence to the ongoing debate of the asymmetrical acquisition of
pronouns and reflexives and suggest that there is less of an asymmetry
than previously assumed.