2021-08-23Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.1007/s10936-021-09801-3
On the Acquisition of Polarity Items: 11- to 12-Year-Olds' Comprehension of German NPIs and PPIs
Sprach- und literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Existing work on the acquisition of polarity-sensitive expressions (PSIs) suggests that children show an early sensitivity to the restricted distribution of negative polarity items (NPIs), but may be delayed in the acquisition of positive polarity items (PPIs). However, past studies primarily targeted PSIs that are highly frequent in children’s language input. In this paper, we report an experimental investigation on children’s comprehension of two NPIs and two PPIs in German. Based on corpus data indicating that the four tested PSIs are present in child-directed speech but rare in young children’s utterances, we conducted an auditory rating task with adults and 11- to 12-year-old children. The results demonstrate that, even at 11–12 years of age, children do not yet show a completely target-like comprehension of the investigated PSIs. While they are adult-like in their responses to one of the tested NPIs, their responses did not demonstrate a categorical distinction between licensed and unlicensed PSI uses for the other tested expressions. The effect was led by a higher acceptance of sentences containing unlicensed PSIs, indicating a lack of awareness for their distributional restrictions. The results of our study pose new questions for the developmental time scale of the acquisition of polarity items.
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