György Rákosi - Enikő Tóth

(University of Debrecen)


The Pronoun Interpretation Problem in child Hungarian





Pronoun interpretation poses a challenge for English children until the early school age. While they tend to interpret reflexives in an adult-like manner by the age of 4-5 (2), they show poorer performance with pronouns if a local antecedent is present: they can accept (1) as a description of a single-participant reflexive event.


(1)        Rabbit is hitting him.

(2)        Rabbit is hitting himself.


This problem has been attested in a number of languages, and it has been argued to be absent or less comprehensive in scope in others. There has been intensive discussion over whether the problem arises from a delay in the acquisition of Principle B or it is the result of pragmatic or processing difficulties that children face in the pertinent contexts.


We conducted two experiments involving a picture-sentence verification task to investigate whether the problem exists in Hungarian child language. We found that it is present if the test sentences are given in isolation, but it disappears if a minimally coherent discourse is created. We interpret our findings as indication that the problem is not due to lack of grammatical knowledge, but it follows from processing difficulties children face in certain contexts (Reinhart 2006).