Do two year old children understand the pronoun 'it'? Evidence from preferential looking.
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Previous research has shown that children show inconsistency in their understanding of how pronouns are used, often producing utterances which differ from the adult norm. Grammatical accounts argue that it is the children’s lack of pragmatic ability which leads to this, while more recently Discourse pragmatic accounts have shown that children do actually attend to discourse features from an early age. Most of the research until now has focused on production therefore in this study it was decided to examine comprehension. Twelve two year old children were tested using a preferential looking paradigm in order to establish whether or not they understood that the pronoun ‘it’ when used subsequently referred to a previously mentioned noun. 12 Adult participants were also tested and acted as experimental controls. The results of these experiments indicate that by two years of age children show adult like interpretation of a pronouns basic discourse pragmatic function. They therefore align with previous production studies which argue that discourse factors play an important role in children’s understanding and use of pronouns from an early age.