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Academic Paper


Title: The use of anaphoric pronouns by French children in narrative: evidence from constrained text production
Author: Victor Emmanuel Millogo
Institution: University of Poitiers
Linguistic Field: Psycholinguistics; Syntax
Subject Language: French
Abstract: This paper describes the acquisition of the 3rd person pronoun 'il/elle' (he, she, it) in seven to twelve-year-old French children (N=58), in written production. An experiment was conducted to examine the relationship between the use of this anaphoric pronoun and the accessibility of the memory-trace of the corresponding referent in the texts. Referential accessibility in short texts was varied according to three factors: referential distance, thematization of the agent role (first sentence subject), and discourse focus. We found that the children were sensitive to the distance factor as early as 7;0, i.e. they used fewer personal pronouns when the referential distance increased. However, children of different ages differed in their weighting of the discourse focus factor and the thematization factor: the seven-year-olds (N=18) and the eleven-year-olds (N=20) were sensitive to variation of the discourse focus but not the thematization factor, while for the nine-year-olds (N=20) it was the reverse. The main results suggest: (a) when seven and nine-year-olds use the pronoun 'il/elle', they do not comply with the constraints associated with the accessibility of the memory-trace of the referent; (b) memory constraints have an effect from the age of 7;0, but only when the discourse focus is maintained. It was concluded that the discourse management of the French personal pronoun 'il/elle' is not totally mastered at 11;0: children cannot operationally integrate the whole array of constraints implied in anaphoric management.

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This article appears IN Journal of Child Language Vol. 32, Issue 2.

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