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Displaced speech and cognitive development: How children acquire state verbs in the past tense

Abstract : When young children start producing references to past events, they talk mostly about telic events (Bronckart & Sinclair, 1973) and about continuous events (Weist, 1986). This has lead to the “Aspect first hypothesis” (Shirai & Andersen, 1995). It is only when children acquire the property of displacement that “they can retrieve prior experiences from memory with the understanding that these experiences occurred prior to the interval of the speech act” (Weist, 1986, p.370.). These studies also show that children tend to reproduce the characteristics of their input, which explains the differences found between children from typologically different languages. In the present work we try to pinpoint the emergence of the use of displacement markers and reference time in French-speaking children. One feature of special interest is the use of state verbs. State verbs mostly represent abstract ideas. So the ability to use state verbs outside the context of the here and now might be connected to the ability to use displacement markers. We followed the development of the use of state verbs in natural interactions in two children and their adult interlocutors from age 1 to age 6. Adults used state verbs in the same way in all sessions. About 90% of the state verbs were in the present form, 6% in the “imparfait” (past unbounded tense) and 2% in one of the future forms. Children used the present and “imparfait” tenses for state verbs quite like the adults, but starting only at age 2;09. Before this age, they produced state verbs only in the present form. This shows that children’s productions do not merely replicate the properties of their input. They learn the forms they hear, but they only use them when they have acquired the necessary cognitive skills. References Bronckart, J. P., & Sinclair, H. (1973). Time, tense and aspect. Cognition, 2(1), 107–130. Shirai & Andersen (1995). The acquisition of tense-aspect morphology: a prototype account. Language, 71, 4, 743-762. Weist, R. M. (1986). Tense and aspect. In P. Fletcher & M. Garman (Eds.), Language Acquisition: Studies in First Language Development (pp. 356–374). Cambridge University Press.
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Contributor : Christophe Parisse <>
Submitted on : Thursday, September 29, 2016 - 11:37:12 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, April 2, 2020 - 7:24:15 PM


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  • HAL Id : halshs-01373270, version 1


Christophe Parisse, Aliyah Morgenstern, Sophie (de) Pontonx. Displaced speech and cognitive development: How children acquire state verbs in the past tense. AEAL - VIIIth International Conference of Language Acquisition, Sep 2016, Mallorca, Spain. ⟨halshs-01373270⟩



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