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Article

Interactive processing of contrastive expressions by Russian children

First Language. 2012. No. 32. P. 63-87.
Sekerina I. A., Trueswell J. C.

Children’s ability to interpret color adjective noun phrases (e.g., red butterfly) as contrastive was examined in an eyetracking study with 6-year-old Russian children. Pitch accent placement (on the adjective red, or on the noun butterfly) was compared within a visual context containing two red referents (a butterfly and a fox) when only one of them had a contrast member (a purple butterfly) or when both had a contrast member (a purple butterfly and a grey fox). Contrastiveness was enhanced by the Russianspecific ‘split constituent’ construction (e.g., Red put butterfly . . .) in which a contrastive interpretation of the color term requires pitch accent on the adjective, with the nonsplit sentences serving as control. Regardless of the experimental manipulations, children had to wait until hearing the noun (butterfly) to identify the referent, even in splits. This occurred even under conditions for which the prosody and the visual context allow adult listeners to infer the relevant contrast set and anticipate the referent prior to hearing the noun (accent on the adjective in 1-Contrast scenes). Pitch accent on the adjective did facilitate children’s referential processing, but only for the nonsplit constituents. Moreover, visual contexts that encouraged the correct contrast set (1-Contrast) only facilitated referential processing after hearing the noun, even in splits. Further analyses showed that children can anticipate the reference like adults but only when the contrast set is made salient by the preceding supportive discourse, that is, when the inference about the intended contrast set is provided by the preceding utterance.