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The self under construction: a functional approach to children’s subject self-reference

Abstract : In their productions about themselves as subject, children might omit the pronoun, use a filler syllable, their name, 2nd, 3rd or 1st person pronouns. Why do they produce several forms to refer to themselves instead of the adult subject pronominal form? As shown by Budwig for English (1995), each form is usually associated to a particular function in context. In order to retrace how children acquire the linguistic system, we need to tease apart what they borrow from adult language and what they recreate on their own. This can provide us with valuable insights on how they creatively process the language that surrounds them and progressively acquire the tools that enable them to refer to themselves, both as speakers and subjects. In this paper, we present data from 2 French and 2 American-speaking children, recorded monthly between the ages of 1 and 4 during everyday interactions with their mothers. All productions referring to self as well as to the interlocutor were coded both in the children’s and their mother’s speech for form, semantic meaning and pragmatic function in context. Focusing on non-standard uses for self-reference, we observe that children first focus on the most salient semantic and pragmatic functions of the forms provided in the parents’ speech. Our first results show that at the beginning of our data, when reference to self is implicit or given, the subject is omitted. The 3rd person and name are produced when the child does not take a first person perspective. Me and moi are used to focus on contrastive agency, and the 2nd person to refer to self in situations where children seem to replicate child-directed speech in fixed scripts. On their path to conventional language, children’s productions thus reflect both the specificities of the surrounding input and their own linguistic and cognitive analyses.
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Contributor : Aliyah Morgenstern <>
Submitted on : Sunday, January 1, 2017 - 9:37:14 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, November 3, 2020 - 9:54:03 AM


  • HAL Id : halshs-01424055, version 1



Stéphanie Caët, Aliyah Morgenstern. The self under construction: a functional approach to children’s subject self-reference . IASCL 2014, Jul 2014, Amsterdam, Netherlands. ⟨halshs-01424055⟩



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