Anaphoric Reference

Children's knowledge of grammar continues to develop beyond the preschool years. One area that has received a good deal of attention from researchers is their knowledge of coreference relations within sentences, especially how anaphoric pronouns and reflexives link with referents. This research has been conducted primarily within a government-binding theoretical framework, investigating children's knowledge of the main binding principles. Spontaneous productions of pronominal forms suggest that quite young children use them correctly in their productive speech, however, the limits of their knowledge cannot be accurately assessed in naturalistic contexts.

Generally, children appear to develop knowledge of the main principles in the following order. By age 6 children know principle A, which states that reflexives are bound to referents within the same clause (e.g., ''John watched Bill wash himself, "himself' must refer to Bill, not John). Sometime later, knowledge of principle B emerges, which states that anaphoric pronouns cannot be bound to referents within the same clause (e.g, ''John asked Bill to hit him''; "him" him must refer to John in the "ask" clause, not Bill in the "hit" clause). The last principle to emerge sometime during middle childhood is principle C, which states that backward coreference is only allowed if the pronoun is in a subordinate clause to the main referent (e.g., ''when he came home, John made dinner"). Some researchers have argued that the grammatical knowledge of these principles is acquired much earlier that the research would suggest but that children's performance on tasks that tap this knowledge is limited by processing factors, pragmatic knowledge, or lexical knowledge. This debate continues in the developmental psycholinguistic literature.

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