Query: The Pronoun Interpretation Problem in Child Language Development

bartsch at zas.gwz-berlin.de bartsch at zas.gwz-berlin.de
Fri Feb 2 03:10:51 UTC 2007

Apologies for cross-posting

Dear all, 

Having posted the summary on pronominal reference resolution, I’d like now 
to post a related query, this time concerning the so-called Delay of 
Principle B Effect (DPBE) or Pronoun Interpretation Problem (PIP) in child 
language development. 

In one of the first studies on the issue, Chien & Wexler (1990) observed an 
asymmetry in English-learning children’s pattern of acquisition of 
intrasentential pronominal anaphora. Children showed an adult-like 
interpretation of reflexives from at least age 3, but performed only at 
chance level with personal pronouns up to age 7 – the so-called DPBE or PIP. 
Chien & Wexler also observed that children only performed poorly when the 
potential antecedent was a referring nominal phrase (NP). When the potential 
antecedent was a quantifier phrase, children’s performance was adult-like. 
ON the other hand, this quantificational asymmetry has been challenged 
Boster 1994; Grolla 2005; Matthews et al. submitted; Conroy et al. 2006 
submitted). It has also been observed that PIP appears predominantly in 
interpretation, but not in production (Bloom et al. 1994; Spenader et al. 
2006; de Villiers et al. to appear), a finding not confirmed in other 
studies (Matthews et al. submitted). A number of explanations have been 
given to PIP, such as the pragmatic account (Chien & Wexler 1990; Thonrton & 
Wexler 1999); the processing account (Reinhart 2000, to appear); and the 
bidirectional optimisation account (Hendriks & Spenader 2004; Hendriks & 
Spenader 2005/2006; Spenader et al. 2006). 

What I’d like to ask you is whether you can help me in my search of studies 
on PIP. I’ve already found a number of studies (listed below), above all for 
English, Dutch, and some Romance languages. What I’m especially looking for 
is studies on children learning German, Russian, and (Brazilian or European) 
Portuguese, as well as studies in bilingual and L2 acquisition. For Russian 
and (Brazilian) Portuguese, I’ve only found the studies by Avrutin & Wexler 
(1992) and Grolla (2005), respectively, and none for German. Also in the 
case of bilingual and L2 acquisition there seem to be only some studies: 
Varlokosta & Dullaart (2001) and Sanoudaki (2003) for the former, White 
(1998) for the latter. 

I’m especially interested in these languages and acquisitional 
constellations, as well as in results concerning (i) age of occurrence and 
resolution of PIP; (ii) the quantificational asymmetry; (iii) the production 
vs. interpretation asymmetry; (iv) and also in explanatory accounts. But if 
you hopefully happen to know any other studies than those listed below, 
regardless of the language, acquisitional context and approach, I’d be most 
grateful if you let me know. 

Many thanks in advance 

Best wishes



Avrutin, S., & Wexler, K. (1992). Development of Principle B in Russian: 
Coindexation at LF and coreference. Language Acquisition, 2(4), pp. 259–306. 

Baauw, S. (1999). The role of the clitic-full pronoun distinction in the 
acquisition of pronominal coreference. In A. Greenhill, H. Littlefield, & C. 
Tano (Eds.), BUCLD 23. Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Boston University 
Conference on Language Development, November 1998. Vol. 1 (pp. 32–43). 
Somerville, Mass.: Cascadilla Press. 

Baauw, S., & Cuetos, F. (2003). The interpretation of pronouns in Spanish 
language acquisition and breakdown: Evidence for the "Principle B Delay" as 
a non-unitary phenomenon. Language Acquisition, 11(4), pp. 219–275. 

Baauw, S., & Delfitto, D. (2005). New views on reflexivity: Delay effects in 
acquisition, cross-modular principle B and reflexive clitics in Romance. 
Probus, 17(2), pp. 145–184. 

Baauw, S., Escobar, L., & Philip, W. (1997). A Delay of Principle B Effect 
in Spanish-speaking children: The role of lexical feature acquisition. In A. 
Sorace, C. Heycock, & R. Shillcok (Eds.), Proceedings of the GALA '97 
Conference on Language Acquisition. Edinburgh: HCRC. 

Bloom, P., Barss, A., Nicol, J., & Conway, L. (1994). Children's knowledge 
of binding and coreference: Evidence from spontaneous speech. Language, 
70(1), pp. 53–71. 

Boster, C. (1994). Children's failure to obey Principle B: Syntactic problem 
or lexical error? In J. Abe, L. Ferro, L. Laporte-Grimes, D. Takahashi, & M. 
Yamashina (Eds.), UConn Working papers in linguistics. Vol. 4. Storrs, 
University of Connecticut. 

Chien, Y.-C., & Wexler, K. (1990). Children's knowledge of locality 
conditions in binding as evidence for the modularity of syntax and 
pragmatics. Language Acquisition, 1(3), pp. 225–295. 

Conroy, A., Takahashi, E., Lidz, J., & Phillips, C. (2006, submitted). Equal 
treatment for all antecedents: How children succed with Principle B. 

Escobar, L., & Gavarró, A. (1999). On the delay of principle B-effect in the 
acquisition of Catalan clitics. Paper presented at the 21st Annual Meeting 
of the DGfS, Konstanz, February 24-26, 1999. 

Grimshaw, J., & Rosen, S. T. (1990). Knowledge and obedience: The 
developmental status of the binding theory. Linguistic Inquiry, 21, pp. 

Grodzinsky, Y., & Reinhart, T. (1993). The innateness of binding and 
coreference. Linguistic Inquiry, 24(1), pp. 69–102. 

Grolla, E. (2005). Pronouns as elsewhere elements: Implications for language 
acquisition. Doctoral dissertation. University of Connecticut. 

Hamann, C., Kowalski, O., & Philip, W. (1997). The French "Delay of 
Principle B" Effect. In E. Hughes, M. Hughes, & A. Greenhill (Eds.), BUCLD 
21. Proceedings of the 21st Annual Boston University Conference on Language 
Development, Boston, November 1996. Vol. 1 (pp. 205–219). Somerville MA: 
Cascadilla Press. 

Hendriks, P., & Spenader, J. (2004). A bidirectional explanation of the 
pronoun interpretation problem. In P. Schlenker, & E. Keenan (Eds.), 
Proceedings of the ESSLLI'04. Workshop on Semantic Approaches to Binding 
Theory, Nancy, France. 

Hendriks, P., & Spenader, J. (2005/2006). When production precedes 
comprehension: An optimization approach to the acquisition of pronouns. 
Language Acquisition, 13(4), pp. 319–348. Retrieved 21-Dec-06, from 

Hestvik, A., & Philip, W. (2000). Binding and coreference in Norwegian child 
language. Language Acquisition: A Journal of Developmental Linguistics, 
8(3), pp. 171–235. 

Jakubowicz, C. (1984). On markedness and binding principles. Proceedings of 
the North Eastern Linguistics Society 14 (pp. 154–182). 

Jakubowicz, C. (1993). Linguistic theory and language acquisition facts: 
Reformulation, maturation or invariance of binding principles. In E. 
Reuland, & W. Abraham (Eds.), Knowledge and Language. Vol. 1. From Orwell's 
problem to Plato's problem (pp. 157–184). Dordrecht: Kluwer. 

Jakubowicz, C., & Olsen, L. (1988). Reflexive anaphores and pronouns in 
Danish: Syntax and acquisition. BUCLD 13 Proceedings. 

Koster, C. (1993). Errors in anaphora acquisition. Doctoral dissertation. 
Utrecht University.
McKee, C. (1992). A comparison of pronouns and anaphors in Italian and 
English acquisition. Language Acquisition, 2(1), pp. 21–54. 

Matthews, D., Lieven, E., & Tomasello, M. (submitted 2007). Pronoun 
co-referencing errors: Challenges for generativist and usage-based accounts. 

Philip, W., & Coopmans, P. (1996). The double Dutch Delay of Principle B 
Effect. BU Proceedings 1996. 

Reinhart, T. (2000). Strategies of anaphora resolution. In H. Bennis, M. 
Everaert, & E. Reuland (Eds.), Interface strategies. Amsterdam: Royal 
Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Reinhart, T. (to appear). Processing or pragmatics? Explaining the 
coreference delay. In T. Gibson, & N. Pearlmutter (Eds.), The processing and 
acquisition of reference. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. 

Sanoudaki, I. (2003). Greek 'strong' pronouns and the delay of principle B 
effect. Reading Working Papers in Linguistics, 7, pp. 103–124 

Sigurjónsdóttir, S., & Hyams, N. (1992). Reflexivization and logophoricity: 
Evidence from the acquisition of Icelandic. Language Acquisition, 2(4), 

Solan, L. (1983). Pronominal reference: Child language and the theory of 
grammar. Dordrecht: Reidel.
Spenader, J., Smits, E.-J., & Hendriks, P. (2006). Coherent discourse solves 
the pronoun interpretation problem. Unpublished manuscript. 

Thornton, R., & Wexler, K. (1999). Principle B, VP ellipsis and 
interpretation in child grammars. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. 

Varlokosta, S., & Dullaart. (2001). The acquisition of pronominal reference 
by Greek-Dutch bilingual children: Evidence for early grammar 
differentiation and autonomous development in bilingual first language 
acquisition. In A. H.-J. Do, L. Dominguez, & A. Johansen (Eds.), BUCLD 25. 
Proceedings of the 25th Annual Boston University Conference on Language 
Development, Boston, November 2000. Vol. 2. Somerville Mass.: Cascadilla 

Villiers, J. de, Cahillane, J., & Altreuter, E. (to appear). What can 
production reveal about Principle B? In K. U. Deen, J. Nomura, B. Schulz, & 
B. D. Schwartz (Eds.), University of Connecticut Occasional Papers in 
Linguistics: Vol. 4. The proceedings of the Inaugural Conference on 
Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition - North America, Honolulu, HI. 
(pp. 89–100). University of Connecticut. 

White, L. (1998). Second language acquisition and Binding Principle B: 
Child/adult differences. Second Language Research, 14(4), pp. 425–439. 

Susanna Bartsch
bartsch at zas.gwz-berlin.de
Zentrum für allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Typologie
und Universalienforschung (ZaS)
Centre for General Linguistics, Typology, and Universals Research
Schützenstr. 18
10117 Berlin
Tel. +49 (0)30 20192562
Fax  +49 (0)30 20192402

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