GRS LX 700
Language Acquisition
and
Linguistic Theory
Week 7.
The Trouble With Principle B
Binding Theory

Binding Theory
Constraints on assignment of reference.

Reflexives (himself, herself, themselves,
…)
Pronouns (he, she, they, him, her, …)
Names (inherent reference)


Binding Theory

Principle A
A reflexive (herself) must have a (ccommanding) antecedent in its governing
category.


Mary saw herself in the mirror.
Mary said John saw herself in the window.
John stole [Mary’s pictures of herself].
Mary stole [John’s pictures of herself].

Governing category ≈ sentence or DP.


Binding Theory

Principle B
A pronoun (her) must not have a (ccommanding) antecedent in its governing
category.


Mary saw her in the mirror.
Mary said John saw her in the window.
John stole [Mary’s pictures of her].
Mary stole [John’s pictures of her].

Governing category ≈ sentence or DP.


Binding Theory

Principle C
A name/r-expression (Mary) must not have a (ccommanding) antecedent at all.

She saw Mary in the mirror.
She said John saw Mary in the window.
Mary stole [his pictures of John].
He stole [her pictures of John].
He said that Mary believes Sue stole my pictures
of John.




Constraints

Every bear is washing her face.
Bunch of bears washing Goldilocks’ face.
 Bunch of bears cleaning their own faces.


Every bear is washing her.


Bunch of bears washing Goldilocks’ face.
Based on what evidence would kids
conclude that the second context is not
described by the second sentence?
Ordering

For adults, Binding Theory is more than
just about order. It’s abstract, about
structure.
He said that Mickey won.
 Mickey said that he won.
 Before he went to school, Mickey ate a
sandwich.


No c-command, no problem.
Binding Theory

The principles of Binding Theory seem to
be universal, represented in all languages.

They prohibit certain interpretations (that
is, are unlearnable from positive evidence)

The principles of Binding Theory are part
of Universal Grammar, not learned.
Binding Theory

Yet… Experiments seem have shown that
sentences ruled out by Binding Theory
seem to be accepted by kids.

Do kids take a while to learn Binding
Theory (even supposing it is learnable)?

When do they know it?
C. Chomsky (1969)

Tested Principle C with kids and proposed that
kids go through three stages:

Stage 1.


Stage 2.


Coreference is unconstrained.
Linear order strategy for pronominalization (linear
order; antecedent must precede pronoun)
Stage 3.

Principle C is obeyed.
C. Chomsky (1969)


“He found out that Mickey won the race.”
“Who found out?”





Kid points to someone, maybe Mickey.
“After he found out, Mickey left.”
“Pluto thinks he knows everything.”
Stage 2: Some kids never picked Mickey.
Is backward pronominalization disallowed in
these kids’ grammars?
Linear order strategy

Do kids go through a stage where they
have a strategy for pronouns instead of
Binding Theory?

Lust (1981): When asked to repeat, kids
repeated forward pronominalizations much
more accurately than redundant
(name…name) sequences or backwards
pronominalizations.
Linear order strategy

But this doesn’t tell us that there aren’t
grammatical principles governing their use
of pronouns and/or reflexives.

If it tells us anything, it only tells us that, of
the grammatical options, forward
pronominalization is preferred.
“Preference parameter”?



Lust in fact elevates this to the status of a
parameter: head-final languages prefer
backwards pronominalization, head-initial
languages prefer forwards pronominalization.
Lust claimed there was a difference in
preference between English and Japanese;
O’Grady failed to replicate the difference
between English and Korean.
This is not a good parameter anyway.
Languages do not differ in what they allow, just
in how much they like a type of sentence.
Onset of Binding Theory



If Binding Theory is part of UG, not learned,
we’d expect that kids start out already
knowing it.
Caveat: Of course, the kids need to know
what is a pronoun and what is a reflexive
before they can use Binding Theory.
However: We expect to find that the first
available evidence should show that kids
know Binding Theory.
Onset of Binding Theory

But it doesn’t seem to turn out as we’d
expect…

Several experiments seem to show that
while kids show early evidence of knowing
Principle A, they (appear to) consistently
fail to observe Principle B—even up to
(and beyond) 6 years old.
Chien & Wexler (1990)

Explored the question of whether kids
know Principles A and B from the outset or
not.

First three experiments show:
Kids correctly require local antecedents for
reflexives (Principle A) early on
 Kids are significantly delayed in requiring nonlocal antecedents for pronouns (Principle B).

C&W90: Experiment I

Tests Principle A (reflexives require a local
antecedent) by providing sentences with
two possible antecedents (one local, one
not). “Simon says” act-out task.
Kitty says that Sarah should point to herself.
 Kitty says that Sarah should point to her.
 Kitty says that Adam should point to her.

C&W90: Experiment II

Checking the effects of finiteness and
gender control on reflexives.

Kitty wants Sarah to point to herself.
Kitty wants Sarah to point to her.
Kitty wants Adam to point to her
Snoopy wants Sarah to point to herself.



C&W90: Experiment III

Increased the number of conditions to test
for pragmatic strategies and to replicate
the results with a different task.

(Previous task was “Simon [Snoopy/Kitty]
says…”, this task was “Party game” which
involved giving objects to people/puppets
sitting at a table).
C&W90: Experiments I-II

Kids from 2.5 to
6 showed a
steady increase
(from about
13% to about
90%) in
requiring herself
to take a local
antecedent.
C&W90: Experiments I-II

For some
reason, kids
seemed to
perform better
with nonfinite
verbs (want);
C&W have no
particular
explanation.
C&W90: Experiments I-II

Kids showed no
significant
development in
requiring her to
take a non-local
antecedent
(about 75%
across the
board)
C&W90: Experiments I-II

Gender cues for non-local pronoun
brought kids’ performance up to nearperfect. Had little effect on reflexives.
C&W90: Experiment III results

Previous results replicated for new task.

Young kids did better (operated at chance)
for Principle A (meaning that they don’t
have a systematic non-local coreference
principle they are following—cf.
Experiment I result showing them at 13%
correct)
C&W90: Possibilities so far…

Kids have to learn Principle B it takes a while.


Her is harder to learn than herself.


But kids use pronouns first (I saw him sentences
indicate that they’re pronouns).
Principle B matures (constraints enforcing
coreference before those prohibiting
coreference?)


But how on positive evidence alone?
*UG-constrained maturation
“Principle B errors” aren’t Principle B problems.
Chien & Wexler (1990)

Kids do know the difference between
pronouns and reflexives (they aren’t
treating them all as reflexives).

E.g., I saw him, *I saw himself.
Kids say sentences like I saw him often
enough, but they do seem to know that
reflexives need a local antecedent.
So what’s wrong
with Principle B?


Chien & Wexler (1990): Nothing is wrong
with Principle B. Kids know and respect
Principle B all along.
Consider what adults can do:


That must be John—or at least he looks an
awful lot like him.
So do adults violate Principle B?
Coindexation


Principle B says that coindexation
between a pronoun and an antecedent is
prohibited if the antecedent is too close.
Assuming adults obey this, that previous
sentence must have been:


That must be John—or at least hei looks an
awful lot like himj.
…where i and j are accidentally coreferent.
Coindexation

If two noun phrases share the same index,
they necessarily share the same referent.
Coindexation implies coreference.

If two noun phrases do not share the same
index, does this mean they can’t share the
same referent? Does contraindexation
imply non-coreference?
Coindexation

The idea behind the Chien & Wexler
account of the Principle B “delay” is that
adults know the pragmatic Principle P, but
kids are unable to use it right away.

Principle P
Contraindexed NPs are non-coreferential
unless the context explicitly forces
coreference.
Coindexation

So, when a kid agrees that…


…meaning ‘Mama Bear is pointing to herself’,
what the kid really said was


Mama Bear is pointing to her.
Mama Beari is pointing to herj.
…ok by Principle B, but violating Principle P (by
allowing i and j both to refer to Mama Bear).
How could we ever tell?

But how can we tell if it’s Principle P that
kids don’t obey and not Principle B, given
that they both seem to allow Mama bear is
pointing to her ‘…herself’?

Answer: Principle B also governs the use
of bound pronouns, which Principle P has
nothing to say about.
Bound pronouns

A bound pronoun is like his in:


Every boyi is looking for hisi keys.
…and these are subject to Principle B, but
they do not have a fixed referent, so
accidental coreference is not an option
here.

*Every boyi admires himi.
Prediction

So, if found that kids accept


(her = Mama Bear)
…but refused to accept


Mama bear points to her
Every beari points to heri.
(her = each bear in turn)
…then kids know Principle B (and what they lack
is probably Principle P).
Chien & Wexler (1990)

First three experiments established that
Principle B appears to be delayed with
respect to Principle A.

Fourth experiment establishes that kids
obey Principle B when coindexation would
be forced by a bound variable
interpretation.
C&W90: Experiment IV

Principle B (but not Principle P) applies
also to bound pronouns—if the kids know
Principle B and not Principle P, we expect
to see kids getting bound pronouns right
(unlike referring pronouns, as previous
three experiments showed).
C&W90: Experiment IV items

Name-reflexive


Is Mama Bear touching herself?
Name-pronoun

Is Mama Bear touching her?
C&W90: Experiment IV items

Quantifier-reflexive


Is every bear touching herself?
Quantifier-pronoun

Is every bear touching her?
C&W90: Experiment IV
controls

Name-name


Every-name


Is Mama Bear pointing to Goldilocks?
Is every bear pointing to Goldilocks?
All-name

Are all of the bears pointing to Goldilocks?
C&W90: Experiment IV
control results


Kids under 5 did poorly
on the mismatch (“no”)
condition for every and
all; they did less poorly
on the mismatch
condition for names.
Kids under 5 haven’t
quite mastered
quantifiers. (So we can’t
test Principle B with
them)
C&W90: Experiment IV
reflexive results

Kids over 5 did near-perfect with respect to
Principle A (name-reflexive and quantifierreflexive match/mismatch).
C&W90: Experiment IV
name-pronoun

Kids did badly on
the name-pronoun
mismatch cases,
steadily rising from
about 70% wrong to
about 25% wrong
between 4 and 7.
C&W90: Experiment IV
quantifier-pronoun


Under 5, kids were
operating around chance
(they don’t understand how
quantifiers work yet)
Over 5, they were at 80%
correct and above—in
particular, better than on
the name-pronoun
condition; they seem to
know Principle B.
C&W90: Appendix I
reflexives
80
60
40
4;09
20
2;08
0
0
2
4
6
8 10
80
60
40
20
4;09
0
2;08
0
2
4
6
8 10
C&W90: Appendix I
pronouns
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
4;09
2;08
0
2
4
6
8 10
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
5;08
4;03
2;08
0
2
4
6
8 10
C&W90: Appendix I
E4: name-pron & quant-pron
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
70
60
50
40
30
6;04
20
10
0
3;05
5;05
3;05
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
Chien & Wexler (1990)
overall results

By the time kids understand quantifiers
like every and all, pronouns, and
reflexives, they apply Principle B.

Where accidental coreference is possible
(despite violating Principle P), kids will
allow it about half of the time.
Thornton & Wexler (1999)

What pragmatic knowledge do children lack?
Broadly speaking, children appear to have
difficulty evaluating other speakers’ intentions…
As speakers, children fail to distinguish between
their knowledge and that of listeners… [c]hildren
use pronouns without first ensuring that a
referent has been introduced into the
conversational context… As listeners, children
appear to assign interpretations to other
speakers’ utterances that require special
contextual support to be felicitous for adults…
(pp. 14-15)
Thornton & Wexler (1999)

Replicated Chien & Wexler (1990) and
also tested VP ellipsis cases—another
case where a pronoun can be bound.

Papa Bear wiped his face
and Brother Bear did [wiped his face] too.
His = Papa Bear’s (strict—coreference)
 His = Brother Bear’s (sloppy—bound)

Parallelism

VP ellipsis is subject to a parallelism
constraint in the elided material.

NPs in the elided and antecedent VP must
Both be bound variables or both be referential
pronouns (structural parallelism)
 If the pronouns are referential, they must have
the same referent (referential parallelism).

Parallelism

PB wiped his face and BB did [wiped his
face] too.
his in the first clause is bound by PB. His in
second must also be bound by the subject,
there BB.
 His in first clause is referential. It refers to GB.
His in second clause must be referential, and
must also refer to GB.


Kids are expected to obey structural
parallelism; grammar (not pragmatics)
Truth value judgment task




Experimenter 1 tells a story, moves the toys.
Experimenter 2 plays a puppet, who has to
report what’s just happened.
The kid decides, based on whether the puppet
told the truth about what happened, to either
give the puppet a cookie or make it do pushups.
If the puppet gets it wrong, the puppet asks the
kid “What really happened?”
19 kids, 4;0 to 5;1
Replicating the basic result


Bert and 3 reindeer have a snowball fight and get
all covered in snow. They go inside, Bert asks the
reindeer to brush the snow off of him. 2 reindeer
refuse, and brushing themselves off; the third
helped a little, but mainly concentrates on brushing
the snow off himself.
Every reindeer brushed him. (No: 92%) √G2


Every reindeer brushed himself. (Yes: 88%) √G2


WRH? “Only one of them helped him”
WRH? Other stuff too.
Bert brushed him. (No: 42%) (group 1: No)

Brushed hisself? Him? Wiped him? Bert??
Testing VP ellipsis

The caveman kissed the dinosaur and
Fozzie Bear did too. (Correct: 100%)

IH brushed someone else’s hair, trolls
brushed their own hair.
The Incredible Hulk brushed his hair and
every Troll did too. (Yes[*SP]: 3%) √G2


WRH? Only the IH did. (First conjunct
consistently controls structural parallelism).
Testing VP ellipsis


Lizard man and the ugly guy for some
reason opt to lift up some other
characters. Lizard man lifts Mickey, ugly
guy lifts the Smurf.
The lizard man lifted him and the ugly guy
did too. (No: 79%)

21% overriding referential parallelism?
Pragmatic? W&T say “probably”.
Testing Principle B



Everyone is covered with glitter, Batman
and 2 turtles refuse to help Smurf out
because they are cleaning themselves.
One turtle briefly helps Smurf, but then
returns to cleaning himself.
Batman cleaned him and every turtle did
too. (No: 86%) √G2
Batman cleaned himself and every turtle
did too. (Yes: 95%)
Testing Principle C

He dusted the skeleton. (No: 92%) √G2

The kiwi bird cleaned Flash Gordon and
he did too. (No: 46%—adults 83%!) √G1

What’s going on? Stress (even implicit due to
the ellipsis)?
Thornton & Wexler (1999)


Conclusions: Kids seem to know and obey
Principle B, Principle C, and structural
parallelism.
Kids seem to have more trouble with
referential parallelism and the contexts for
constructions of “guises”.
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GRS LX 700 Language Acquisition and Linguistic Theory