Linguistics colloquium: Esther Ruigendijk

12/04/2016 - 14:00 - 15:30

Esther Ruigendijk, Oldenburg University

Title: The acquisition of Wh-movement derived sentences from a crosslinguistic perspective (German – Hebrew) in typically developing and hearing impaired children

Abstract: Various types of morphological information can serve as cues to assist comprehension and production of complex sentences, i.e., case and/or gender information. These cues are realized differently in different languages, and thus might have different effects. I will present two studies, one examined the effects of case and gender information on comprehension and repetition of wh-questions and topicalization sentences, for German- and Hebrew-speaking typically developing children, and compared between the two languages. The participants were typically developing children, 3-6;8 years old, German- and Hebrew-speaking.

Comprehension was examined using a picture-matching task and production by using a repetition task. In half of the sentences the two figures were of the same gender and in half – of different genders. In Hebrew this difference manifests on verb agreement and in German – on the determiner. The children's performance on the different types of sentences, and between sentences with and without the gender/case cues was compared. Findings show the classical subject-object asymmetry in comprehension and repetition, and display a difference between German and Hebrew in the way cues assist comprehension and repetition. I argue that the difference between the facilitating effect of gender and case information relates to whether it is realized on subject-verb agreement or not. 
The second study examined whether moderate to severe hearing loss at a young age affects the ability of German-speaking orally trained children to understand and produce movement-derived sentences. (subject and object relatives, subject and object Wh-questions, passive sentences, and topicalized sentences, as well as sentences with verb movement to second sentential position). We tested 19 HI children aged 9;5-13;6 and compared their performance with hearing children using sentence-picture matching and sentence repetition tasks. The results clearly showed that most HI children had considerable difficulties in the comprehension and repetition of sentences with syntactic movement: they had significant difficulties understanding object relatives, Wh-questions, and topicalized sentences, and in the repetition of object who and which questions and subject relatives, as well as in sentences with verb movement to second sentential position. Repetition of passives was only problematic for some children. Object relatives were still difficult at this age for both HI and hearing children. An additional important outcome of the study is that not all sentence structures are impaired—passive structures did not pose a problem for the HI children in comprehension, and caused fewer problems in repetition than other structures. The results of this study will be compared to earlier studies by Sztermann & Friedmann (2006, 2011, similar tests were used) on the syntactic abilities of Hebrew-speaking HI children.