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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: UNDERstanding. How infants acquire the meaning of UNDER and other spatial relational terms. Add Dissertation
Author: Katharina Rohlfing Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Universität Bielefeld, Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies
Completed in: 2002
Linguistic Subfield(s): Semantics; Language Acquisition;
Subject Language(s): Polish
Director(s): Chris Sinha
Hans Strohner

Abstract: Why is it difficult or even impossible for two year old children to understand instructions containing the preposition UNDER, while they have fewer difficulties with IN and ON?

This question is of principal relevance for languages that describe spatial relations by means of prepositions. My thesis attempts an explanation of how children gather the meaning of spatial relations and which role situation plays in understanding relational requests. In approaching this issue, the understanding of spatial relational terms was formulated in four different tasks. Every task represents a different theoretical perspective on the interface between language and cognition, each of which is critically examined on the basis of the experimental results.

For testing the role of situation, an artificial setting was developed (the HiK-construction). This construction was seen as a 'not yet specified' setting because the children (20-26 month old) had never seen it before and it its physical properties were designed not to suggest any particular relation. Moreover, using this construction was intended to give the infants as little context as possible.

Two experimental studies with 20 to 26 month old, Polish-speaking infants are at the center of my thesis. In both studies, the understanding of instructions with a spatial preposition was tested. The first investigated what infants know about spatial prepositions. The results suggested that infants' semantic knowledge is guided by non-linguistic strategies. However, more than just the two rules formulated in Clark (1973) could be observed. The analysis of these strategies within the framework of Cognitive Grammar (Langacker, 1987) showed that they are grounded in infants' intercontextual and situated knowledge, i.e. their experiences with objects in a cultural group. These strategies are involved in the understanding of linguistic expressions and help children to react appropriately, because they are an integral part of linguistic communication I term them co-linguistic rather than non-linguistic.

The second study (a training study) was dedicated to investigating the question of how infants learn a certain preposition. Since at the age studied, they have difficulties understanding UNDER, precisely this preposition was trained. The results suggested that infants can learn to understand instructions containing this preposition within two training sessions. However, their successful understanding depends on the type of situation. The best learning effect was found in a well-known situation, in which infants knew the objects from the training sessions. The learners had difficulties transferring their knowledge to a situation with a new object. No learning effect was found in the artificial HiK-situation. These findings support the view that at this age, infants rely more on contextual and situated cues than on their lexical knowledge in their understanding.

A theoretical perspective that accounts for these findings is a situated view of language, in which the load at the semantic level (i.e. the construction of meaning) is partially shifted from the inner processes of the child to the child’s environment, i.e. the outer world. There, the semantics coincide with the pragmatics as all adult actions are influenced by cultural values and conventions.