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Preschoolers' comprehension of pronouns and reflexives: the impact of the task*



Pronouns seem to be acquired in an asymmetrical way, where children confuse the meaning of pronouns with reflexives up to the age of six, but not vice versa. Children's production of the same referential expressions is appropriate at the age of four. However, response-based tasks, the usual means to investigate child language comprehension, are very demanding given children's limited cognitive resources. Therefore, they might affect performance. To assess the impact of the task, we investigated learners of Dutch (three- and four-year-olds) using both eye-tracking, a non-demanding on-line method, and a typical response-based task. Eye-tracking results show an emerging ability to correctly comprehend pronouns at the age of four. A response-based task fails to indicate this ability across age groups, replicating results of earlier studies. Additionally, biases seem to influence the outcome of the response-based task. These results add new evidence to the ongoing debate of the asymmetrical acquisition of pronouns and reflexives and suggest that there is less of an asymmetry than previously assumed.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Christina Bergmann, Faculty of Arts, Radboud University, P. O. Box 9103, 6500 HD Nijmegen, The Netherlands. e-mail:


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The authors wish to thank the team at the Baby Research Centre Nijmegen, the Netherlands, which greatly supported this study, in particular Angela Khadar. Furthermore, we are thankful to the two anonymous reviewers and the editors who provided insightful recommendations on a previous version of this article.



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