Does implicit causality influence children's sentence comprehension
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Studies investigating adults’ sentence comprehension have found that certain verbs convey implicit information about the causality of the sentence. The present study tested children aged 8; 10 – 11;7 years (M = 10;3) to investigate if children also use implicit causality of verbs to comprehend sentences. Firstly, a sentence completion task was carried out by each child. Half the sentences included NP1 verbs, for example, Bart phoned Marge because…. The first clause of these sentences imply that the cause of the event is due to the subject noun phrase (NP1); in this case, Bart. The other half of the sentences included NP2 verbs; sentences such as Kenny liked Bebe because… were used. NP2 verbs assign the cause of the event to the object noun phrase (NP2). Secondly, the children were tested on an answer task. Again, half of the sentences included NP1 verbs, the other half included NP2 verbs. Sentences were completed with either congruent or incongruent sentence endings. In congruent sentences, such as Bart amused Homer because he told funny jokes, the verb in the first clause and the sentence ending both imply the same character has caused the event. Incongruent sentences, such as Marge punished Lisa because she was in a bad mood, include sentence endings which imply the character who had caused the event to be different to the character implied by the verb. The children were asked which character, in the congruent and incongruent sentences, was referred to as the pronoun (he/she) later in the sentence. The majority of children added a congruent sentence ending in the completion task. In the answer task the children responded with a greater number of correct answers when a congruent sentence ending was used. Therefore, children, in the same way as adults, use the verb to imply information about the causality of a sentence. In conclusion, the implicit causality of verbs does influence children’s sentence comprehension.
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