The Early Comprehension of Noun-Verb Distinction in French: An Experimental Method.

Abstract : Verbs and nouns may differ in many ways - semantic, syntactic, morphological and phonological - all of them relevant in their identification, acquisition and use. This paper focuses on French and on the syntactic distinction by which French nouns and verbs occur in their immediate constituents: nouns are usually preceded by determiners while verbs are preceded by pronouns, auxiliaries or prepositions, or appear "bear" in the imperative form. When do children start to manifest some understanding of this formal difference among words? Studies of early production suggest that in the second year children use fillers (vocalic segments added to child-produced words, e.g. Peters & Menn, 1993) to primitively mark this distinction between nouns and verbs (e.g., Veneziano & Sinclair, 2000). How about comprehension? Can children infer the meaning of a word uniquely on the basis of its preceding linguistic context? To answer this question, 90 French children of 2, 3 and 4 years (30 at each age level) were confronted with pairs of images, one representing an object and the other an action, projected concomitantly on a television screen. For each pair, children were asked to show where they "saw X", where X was a word - an homophone - that could function as a noun or a verb, the only distinguishing mark being whether it was preceded by the determinate article or by the subject pronoun. 12 stimuli were French homophones (like /pus/ meaning thumb when preceded by "le" and push when preceded by "il") and 3 were nonce words (e.g., le chime / il chime), for which strange objects and unfamiliar actions were used. Requests with noun and verb functions, and the position of the requested item on the screen, were controlled. Children were administered one of four lists of randomly generated order of items. All lists were presented to an equal number of subjects. Children were considered to "pass" the task if they succeeded a number of items greater then expected on the basis of chance alone (at least 10 of the total 15 with p<.05). Results show (see Table 1) that at 2 years already 50% of the children can identify the image as a function of the word's linguistic environment, showing an early sensitivity to specific linguistic properties of the language even in the absence of other supporting evidence. This proportion increases with age reaching more then 90% at 4 years. No difference between items requesting nouns or verbs was found.
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Contributor : Edy Veneziano <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 6:25:14 PM
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Edy Veneziano, Christophe Parisse. The Early Comprehension of Noun-Verb Distinction in French: An Experimental Method.. XVIIth Biennial International Conference on Infant Studies, Mar 2010, Baltimore, Maryland, United States. ⟨halshs-00506768⟩

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