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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: Towards an Explanation of First Language Acquisition of Hebrew Coordination Add Dissertation
Author: Leah Paltiel-Gedalyovich Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics: Linguistics
Completed in: 2004
Linguistic Subfield(s): Language Acquisition;
Subject Language(s): Hebrew
Director(s): Jeannette Schaeffer
Nomi Erteschik-Shir

Abstract: This dissertation reports an experimental investigation of Hebrew-speaking children's knowledge of truth-conditional (semantic) and non-truth-conditional (semantic and pragmatic) properties of coordinated sentences such as (1):

(1) yored geshem ve/aval/o ha shemesh zoraxat
'it's raining and/but/or the sun is shining'

Within a model of language acquisition following from generative grammar, I assume the answer to the logical question of language acquisition lies in early (if not innate) knowledge of not only grammar (syntax and compositional syntax), but also (parts of) pragmatics. The developmental question of language acquisition is then answered by arguing that the realization of both types of language knowledge may be regulated by general cognitive abilities such as the ability to process complex relations.

I consider three different categories of meaning with respect to coordination. These are: (semantic) truth-conditional meaning, (semantic) conventional non-truth-conditional meaning and (pragmatic) conversational implicatures. I first define the relations of the truth conditions of coordination (using traditional formal logic), the contrast element of aval/but (using the analysis suggested by Winter and Rimon, 1994) and the relevant scalar and clausal conversational implicatures (using Gazdar's (1979) analysis). Furthermore, I make use of Levinson's (2000) analysis of generalized versus particularized conversational implicatures to distinguish between developmental and non-developmental implicature phenomena. I then analyze the complexity of each of these relations using Halford, Wilson and Phillips' (1998) relational complexity metric. Relational complexity is measured in terms of the number of elements which must be considered simultaneously in order for the relation to be
processed. This leads to specific predictions regarding the expected age of acquisition of each defined element. The main predictions are:

1) Children will demonstrate knowledge of truth conditions of the coordinators by the age of 5 years.
2) Children will not demonstrate knowledge of the contrast element and the
scalar conversational implicature, even by 9;6 years.
3) Adults will show consistent and uniform responses to tasks involving
generalized conversational implicatures and inconsistent, non-uniform
reponses to tasks involving particularized conversational implicatures.

I tested the knowledge of these semantic and pragmatic properties of coordinated sentences in 136 mono-lingual Hebrew-speakers (119 children aged 2;6 through 9;6 and 17 adults) with 8 judgement tasks involving truth or felicity judgements of a puppet's coordinated sentences describing pictures. A further task of carrying out instructions was administered to the youngest participants. The results supported my predictions. I conclude that my evidence supports an answer to the developmental question of language acquisition where (at least the investigated) differences between child and adult language behaviors result from an immature cognitive ability to process complex relations, rather than from underdeveloped
pragmatics or semantics.