Journal of Speech and Hearing Research Vol.21 746-761 December 1978.
© American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Comprehension Strategies in Two and Three Year Olds: Animate Agents or Probable Events?
Robin S. Chapman
Lawrence L. Kohn
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Preschoolers may prefer themselves, the handier toy, the smaller toy, the more probable toy, the animate noun, or the first-mentioned noun as agent in interpreting semantically reversible sentences prior to adult performance. This study asked whether individual children consistently showed preferences and, if so, which preference. Twenty-five children, aged two years, two years and six months, or three years and six months, acted out 36 semantically reversible sentences containing one animate and one inanimate noun with toys. Three separate presentations were made of each of 12 sentences, with relative toy size varying on each. The 12 sentences, which varied in presumed probability of the animate noun as agent, consisted of six simple sentences (for example, The kitty pushes the door) and their reversals (for example, The door pushes the kitty). Two and two and a half year olds showed consistent individual preferences for animate nouns as agents in some sentences but not others. Thus there was evidence only for a sentence-specific probable event strategy rather than a generally applied animate agent strategy. Some two-and-a-half-year-old children also showed consistent position preferences or word order strategies. Children did not confine themselves to a single strategy. Three and a half year olds consistently used a word order strategy. Relative object size was not a significant factor. Age and short-term memory span were more closely related than mean length of utterance to comprehension.
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