Knowledge of adjective reference by monolingual Spanish- and English-speaking children

Martha E Rayas Tanaka, University of Texas at El Paso


Previous studies (Waxman and Kosowski 1990, Waxman, Senghas and Benveniste, 1997 and Waxman and Guasti, 2009) have concluded that there is a distinct inclination for Spanish-speaking monolingual children but not for English-speaking children (3 and 4 years of age) to "extend" a novel adjective that is applied to an individual object, to other members of the same superordinate level category due to the Determiner-Adjective construction in Spanish, in which a postnominal adjective occurs in the same surface position as a noun such as in: La azul 'the blue (one)'. In an Across-Category condition, children were presented with a model object and two test items as alternatives to choose from. One test item was the same object as the model object, but had a different salient pattern (non-target object). The other test item (target object) belonged to a different superordinate level category to that of the model object and had the same salient pattern of the model object. In the task, children had to recognize that the novel adjective refers to a property of the object (its pattern) and no to the object itself and find the test item that has the same pattern. This design gives the opportunity to investigate how children interpret what an adjective refers to: a property or an object. The present study additionally explores the role of syntax and morphology as informative linguistic sources for the child to acquire the grammatical category of the adjective by using four different linguistic contexts: Adjective without morpheme or syntactic context, Adjective without morpheme but with syntactic context, Adjective with morpheme but without syntactic context and Adjective with morpheme and syntactic context. According to the authors of the previous studies the adjective in the Determiner-Adjective construction adopts a semantic function that is customarily associated with count nouns leading Spanish-speaking children to assume that adjectives refer to objects and therefore the conceptual representation of adjectives by monolingual Spanish-speaking children is different from their representation by monolingual English-speaking. The results of the present study show that English- and Spanish- speaking children do understand that adjectives refer to properties and not to objects by recognizing that the novel adjective refers to a property of the object (its pattern) and no to the object itself. Some caveats are presented and further methodological implications are discussed in order to further explore the conceptual representation of adjectives in English and Spanish-speaking monolingual children.

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Recommended Citation

Rayas Tanaka, Martha E, "Knowledge of adjective reference by monolingual Spanish- and English-speaking children" (2012). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1512595.