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LINGUIST List 21.3389

Tue Aug 24 2010

Diss: Lang Acq: Hacohen: 'On the Acquisition of Hebrew ...'

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        1.    Aviya Hacohen, On the Acquisition of Hebrew Compositional Telicity

Message 1: On the Acquisition of Hebrew Compositional Telicity
Date: 24-Aug-2010
From: Aviya Hacohen <aviyabgu.ac.il>
Subject: On the Acquisition of Hebrew Compositional Telicity
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Institution: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Program: Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics: Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2010

Author: Aviya Hacohen

Dissertation Title: On the Acquisition of Hebrew Compositional Telicity

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): Hebrew (heb)

Dissertation Director:
Nomi Erteschik-Shir
Jeannette C Schaeffer

Dissertation Abstract:

This study investigates the telic/atelic distinction in adult and child
Hebrew. The importance of the direct object for the derivation of telicity
in adult language is supported with novel psycholinguistic data; however,
these findings also indicate that telicity is ultimately derived through
implicature. Hence, an original pragmatic account, which elegantly accounts
for the data, is developed.

Acquisition data from children between the ages of 7;9-17;11 reveal a
surprising developmental pattern, with stable, and non-adultlike
performance in the telic conditions across all age groups, along with
convergence of atelic conditions from age 13;6 and up. I argue that Hebrew
speaking children's non-adultlike performance on telicity is caused by
their immature knowledge of quantization.

Knowledge of telicity was tested on 9 Hebrew-speaking adults and 32
Hebrew-speaking children, aged 7;9-17;11. Participants were presented with
video-clips showing an incomplete event and had to judge whether the
accompanying (a)telic predicate - orally expressed by the experimenter -
matched the event or not. There were six experimental-conditions:
(in)definite singular count, e.g. 'color-in a/the square' (target-judgment
for both: 'no'); (in)definite plural, e.g. 'color-in (the) squares'
(target-judgment for definite: 'no'; target-judgment for indefinite:
'yes'); (in)definite mass, e.g. 'color-in (the) material'
(target-judgments: same as for plural conditions).

Adult data reveal that the telicity value of the predicate largely depends
on whether the direct-object is mass or count and/or whether it is definite
or indefinite. However, I also found significant variation in
interpretations, both between speakers and between items. Based on these
data, I argue that telicity is ultimately implicated pragmatically rather
than entailed semantically.

The acquisition data revealed that performance on the telic conditions was
clearly non-adultlike even for the oldest children tested, with telic
predicates often accepted as descriptions of incomplete events. As for
atelicity, adultlike performance was not evinced before age 13;6. Given
that noun-type and definiteness were shown to be central in adult telicity,
two independent experiments were conducted, one testing the mass/count
distinction, and the other, testing definiteness. Results revealed no
significant difference between adults and children.

Given the results of the three experiments, I argue that knowledge of
definiteness and the mass/count distinction are both necessary but not
sufficient conditions for the acquisition of telicity. Adultlike knowledge
of telicity is not simply a natural consequence of combining knowledge of
definiteness and the mass/count distinction. Furthermore, these data
provide empirical support for the claim that the direct object, and
specifically, definiteness and noun type, are not the sole contributors to
the derivation of telicity.

Thus, findings from this study, which reveal significant variability in
adult interpretations, indicate that it is ultimately a pragmatic mechanism
that governs the interpretation of predicates as telic or atelic.
Furthermore, this hypothesis elegantly accounts for the highly unexpected
acquisition data. Assuming that (a)telicity is derived through implicature
and taken together with independent evidence that implicatures, and
specifically scalar implicatures, are acquired very late, the acquisition
data from the current study are straightforwardly accounted for.

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