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Perspective-shifts in event descriptions in Tamil child language

  • BHUVANA NARASIMHAN (a1) and MARIANNE GULLBERG (a1)

Abstract

Children are able to take multiple perspectives in talking about entities and events. But the nature of children's sensitivities to the complex patterns of perspective-taking in adult language is unknown. We examine perspective-taking in four- and six-year-old Tamil-speaking children describing placement events, as reflected in the use of a general placement verb (veyyii ‘put’) versus two fine-grained caused posture expressions specifying orientation, either vertical (nikka veyyii ‘make stand’) or horizontal (paDka veyyii ‘make lie’). We also explore whether animacy systematically promotes shifts to a fine-grained perspective. The results show that four- and six-year-olds switch perspectives as flexibly and systematically as adults do. Animacy influences shifts to a fine-grained perspective similarly across age groups. However, unexpectedly, six-year-olds also display greater overall sensitivity to orientation, preferring the vertical over the horizontal caused posture expression. Despite early flexibility, the factors governing the patterns of perspective-taking on events are undergoing change even in later childhood, reminiscent of U-shaped semantic reorganizations observed in children's lexical knowledge. The present study points to the intriguing possibility that mechanisms that operate at the level of semantics could also influence subtle patterns of lexical choice and perspective-shifts.

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Corresponding author

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, PB 310, 6500 AH Nijmegen, The Netherlands. tel: +31-(0)24-3521213; e-mail: bhuvana@mpi.nl

Footnotes

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We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the teachers and students of the Ramakrishna Mission Tamil Medium School (Chennai, India) in conducting the study reported here. We are also grateful for funding from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics for data collection. We wish to express our thanks to Melissa Bowerman, Asifa Majid, Asli Özyürek, Leah Roberts, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on aspects of the design and analysis of the study. Any remaining errors are solely ours.

Footnotes

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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
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