LINGUIST List 21.3389

Tue Aug 24 2010

Diss: Lang Acq: Hacohen: 'On the Acquisition of Hebrew ...'

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        1.    Aviya Hacohen, On the Acquisition of Hebrew Compositional Telicity

Message 1: On the Acquisition of Hebrew Compositional Telicity
Date: 24-Aug-2010
From: Aviya Hacohen <>
Subject: On the Acquisition of Hebrew Compositional Telicity
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Institution: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Program: Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics: Linguistics Dissertation Status: Completed Degree Date: 2010

Author: Aviya Hacohen

Dissertation Title: On the Acquisition of Hebrew Compositional Telicity

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): Hebrew (heb)
Dissertation Director:
Nomi Erteschik-Shir Jeannette C Schaeffer
Dissertation Abstract:

This study investigates the telic/atelic distinction in adult and childHebrew. The importance of the direct object for the derivation of telicityin adult language is supported with novel psycholinguistic data; however,these findings also indicate that telicity is ultimately derived throughimplicature. Hence, an original pragmatic account, which elegantly accountsfor the data, is developed.

Acquisition data from children between the ages of 7;9-17;11 reveal asurprising developmental pattern, with stable, and non-adultlikeperformance in the telic conditions across all age groups, along withconvergence of atelic conditions from age 13;6 and up. I argue that Hebrewspeaking children's non-adultlike performance on telicity is caused bytheir immature knowledge of quantization.

Knowledge of telicity was tested on 9 Hebrew-speaking adults and 32Hebrew-speaking children, aged 7;9-17;11. Participants were presented withvideo-clips showing an incomplete event and had to judge whether theaccompanying (a)telic predicate - orally expressed by the experimenter -matched the event or not. There were six experimental-conditions:(in)definite singular count, e.g. 'color-in a/the square' (target-judgmentfor both: 'no'); (in)definite plural, e.g. 'color-in (the) squares'(target-judgment for definite: 'no'; target-judgment for indefinite:'yes'); (in)definite mass, e.g. 'color-in (the) material'(target-judgments: same as for plural conditions).

Adult data reveal that the telicity value of the predicate largely dependson whether the direct-object is mass or count and/or whether it is definiteor indefinite. However, I also found significant variation ininterpretations, both between speakers and between items. Based on thesedata, I argue that telicity is ultimately implicated pragmatically ratherthan entailed semantically.

The acquisition data revealed that performance on the telic conditions wasclearly non-adultlike even for the oldest children tested, with telicpredicates often accepted as descriptions of incomplete events. As foratelicity, adultlike performance was not evinced before age 13;6. Giventhat noun-type and definiteness were shown to be central in adult telicity,two independent experiments were conducted, one testing the mass/countdistinction, and the other, testing definiteness. Results revealed nosignificant difference between adults and children.

Given the results of the three experiments, I argue that knowledge ofdefiniteness and the mass/count distinction are both necessary but notsufficient conditions for the acquisition of telicity. Adultlike knowledgeof telicity is not simply a natural consequence of combining knowledge ofdefiniteness and the mass/count distinction. Furthermore, these dataprovide empirical support for the claim that the direct object, andspecifically, definiteness and noun type, are not the sole contributors tothe derivation of telicity.

Thus, findings from this study, which reveal significant variability inadult interpretations, indicate that it is ultimately a pragmatic mechanismthat governs the interpretation of predicates as telic or atelic.Furthermore, this hypothesis elegantly accounts for the highly unexpectedacquisition data. Assuming that (a)telicity is derived through implicatureand taken together with independent evidence that implicatures, andspecifically scalar implicatures, are acquired very late, the acquisitiondata from the current study are straightforwardly accounted for.

Page Updated: 24-Aug-2010