An important fact about human language is that different forms can be used to refer to the same thing and different expressions can be formulated to describe the same event when they are situated in different contexts. The general principle is that speakers have to infer what the hearers know and based on this assumption they choose an appropriate form to refer to a particular object for hearers to identify the intended referent (Gundel, Hedberg, & Zacharski, 1993). The development of such capacity in children of course is an important question. The present study examined how children made use of different expressions when they were situated in different communication contexts. Two story retelling tasks, one with static input (Frog) and one with dynamic input (Pear) were administered to age 6 children who are native speakers of Chinese. In the Pear task, child participants were required to retell the story immediately after watching the Pear film (Chafe, 1975), with dynamic input available in child’s mind. By contrast, in the Frog task, child participants, after listening to the Frog story (Mayer, 1969) along with looking at the story slideshow, retrieved the story with static input available in their mind. By comparing language samples elicited in these two tasks, we probed into how children introduce and refer to previously mentioned figures, a window for us to see how these events were represented mentally in children. Our results showed that children used more relative clauses in Pear task in which dynamic information had been inputted before the retelling discourse. Subsequent analyses of the use of relative clauses in these two tasks revealed that grounding and humanness were two major factors affecting their syntactic choices of referring expressions, as proposed by Fox & Thompson (1990). We suggest that referring expressions are resultants of discourse participants’ attention to information flow, even when the conversation is carried on in a controlled situation. Children chose specific linguistic forms to serve particular function in discourse, in alignment with the information they get from differing inputs.
|Publication status||Published - 2012|