Information structure and choice of
perspective in Hungarian narrative
discourse: a developmental study
Gabriella Fekete
Dynamique Du Langage
(UMR 5596 CNRS & Université Lyon 2)
[email protected]
Syntax of the World’s Languages lll, Free University of Berlin, September
25-28, 2008
Narrative production
• Organization of events by linguistic
expressions
• Multi-propositional structure
• Coherence
• Guide of attention flow in the story
Mastery of many linguistic tools
BUT
Difficulties in the construction of a narration
Several linguistic options for the organization
of the information flow (Jisa et al. 2002)
↓
Constructions in competition for the same
function
Berman & Slobin (1994)
Dimensions of event construal:
(a) selection of topic ;
(b) selection of loci of control and effect ;
(c) selection of event view ;
(d) selection of degree of agency.
Distribution of information:
- Choice of elements
- Attribution of salience
- Selection of foreground or background
Foundations of a basis of reference
order of access important
↓
• “Privilege” of the initial element
(Gernsbacher & Hargreaves 1992, Croft 1994)
• Initial focus of attention (Langacker 1998)
• “Starting point” (MacWhinney 1977)
Problem with the terminology „starting
point”
Languages with fixed word order (English,
French):
First element = subject/agent = topic = starting
point
↓
Equivalents
Languages with flexible word order (Hebrew, Spanish,
Turkish, Hungarian):
First element = subject/agent / direct objet / indirect
object
In Hungarian:
• Not obligatory topic → clauses beginning with the
verb
• Pro drop+object marking in the verb → clauses
containing a verbal form
S/A, starting point, topic = not equivalents
↓
Use of the term « perspective »
Several devices for the manipulation of
perspective (Berman & Slobin 1994):
Transitivity
(1) a.The boy was frightened because an owl
came out.
b. The boy was afraid of the owl.
c. The owl frightened the boy.
Reference form
(2) The boy hung on to the antlers of a deer.
The deer/he/which/this one ran away.
Voice
(3) a. The bees chased the dog.
b. The dog was chased (by the bees).
c. (fr.) Le chien s’enfuit. = The dog ran away.
Topicalization, Word order
(4) a. As for the frog, the boy saw it.
b. (hu) A békát nézte a fiú. = ‘The frog(acc.) saw
the boy.’
How do Hungarian children and adults
organize the components of information?
Which participant do they prefer to take as
the perspective?
Methodology
Subjects
• 5 age groups : 3, 5, 7/8, and 11/12 years of
age, and adults
• 15 subjects in each group
• Monolingual Hungarian speakers from middle
class backgrounds
Task
A series of pictures with
no text
↓
Elicitation of the narrative
4 episodes treated here
3-yearolds
5-yearolds
7-8yearolds
11-12yearolds
adults
Total
15
15
15
15
15
75
43
63
68
76
78
328
Mean clauses per
subject
2.87
4.2
4.53
5.07
5.2
Range
1.6
2.7
2.8
1.9
3.9
Mean of episodes
not mentioned per
subject
1.6
0.87
0.53
0.53
0.33
Number of subjects
who do not mention
all episodes
12
8
7
3
3
Range
1.3
1.2
1.2
2.3
1.2
n
Total number of
clauses
Table 1. Number of subjects, number of clauses encoding the
4 targeted events, mean and range of clauses coded
per subject.
Characteristics of the Hungarian Language
• Agglutinative language of the Finno-Ugrian
language family
• Pro-drop
• Case-marked grammatical relation for every
argument (17 cases)
• No gender
• Object marker in transitive verb forms (2 types of
conjugation).
(5)
a fiú meg-ijeszt-ett
egy bagly-ot
def boy prev-to frighten-past.3S indef owl-ACC
the boy frightened an owl
a-ki
le-lök-t-e
a fá-ról
rel-animate prev-to push-past-3SO def tree-delative
which pushed [him] out of the tree
• No passive construction
• Lexicalized verbal form for the middle voice
• Left-dislocation → another register
• SVO (subject-verb-object) canonical word order
- Very flexible
- Pragmatically determined (topicfocus-comment)
3 syntactic
positions
=
3 pragmatic
functions
• Sentence-initial position → topic
• Immediately preverbal position → focus
• Postverbal position → background information
(comment)
• Topic = definite and/or animate NP
• Focus = the most information-bearing
element
Identification : - the strongest accent of the
sentence
- pre-verb moved after
the verb
• Post-verbal position = backgrounded /
defocused NP
Restrictive hierarchy of the position of the
argument in perspective
Argument in perspective
Initial (topic)
(6)
a. viszont egy ideges vakond
but
indef nervous mole
meg-csíp-t-e
prev-to bite-past-3SO
az
orr-á-t
def nose-poss-ACC
but a nervous mole has bitten his nose (19;06.d)
b. itt
meg a
kutyá-t
here and def dog-ACC
a
def
el-kerget-ik
prev-to chase-present-3PO
legy-ek
fly-pl
and here the dog, the flies are chasing it (5;08.f)
Argument in perspective
Initial (topic)
Grammatical (subject/agent)
(7)
a. mert
meg-harap-t-a
a orr-á-t
because prev-to bite-past-3SO def nose-poss-ACC
because [it] bit his nose (5;07.b)
b. és itt
le-dob-ja
and here prev-to throw-present-3SO
and [it] throws him here (3;07.c)
Argument in perspective
Initial (topic)
Grammatical (subject/agent)
Grammatical (object)
(8)
ugyanis kerget-ik
ideed
to chase-present-3PO
a
def
méh-ek
bee-pl.
indeed, the bees are chasing [it]. (21;07.n)
Argument in perspective
Initial (topic)
Grammatical (subject/agent)
Grammatical (object)
Post-verbal
(9)
ott
le-dob-t-a
a
over there prev-to throw-past-3SO def
a
def
szarvas
deer
kis-fiú-t
little-boy-ACC
over there, the deer has thrown the little boy (8;01.a)
Argument in perspective
Initial (topic)
Grammatical (subject/agent)
Grammatical (object)
Post-verbal
Pre-verbal (focus)
(10)
mert
az odú-ból egy bagoly jött
elő
because def hole-elatif indef owl
to come.past.3S prev
because it was an owl that came out o the hole (11;08.f)
Results
70,00%
60,00%
50,00%
3-year-olds
40,00%
5-year-olds
30,00%
7/8-year-olds
11/12-year-olds
20,00%
adults
10,00%
0,00%
intrans
intrans with obl
trans
other
Graph1. Mean (%) of the distribution of intransitive versus transitive clauses
in the 4 episodes
• Intransitive constructions decrease (F(4,65)=2.323,p=.0658)
• Transitive options increase (F(4,65)=2.045,p=.0984)
• Intransitive clauses with obliques increase
(F(4,65)=.588,p=.6726)
Only clauses with at least two participants (transitive
clauses, intransitive clauses with oblique(s))
One device alternating perspective in
Hungarian
↓
Variations in word order
70,00%
60,00%
50,00%
40,00%
3-year-olds
5-year-olds
30,00%
7/8-year-olds
20,00%
11/12-year-olds
adults
10,00%
0,00%
initial
gramm
post-verbal
Graph 2. Mean (%) of the distribution of positions of the actor/agent
perspective in the clauses with two participants in the 4 episodes
• 3-year-olds: grammatical forms (F(4,65)=.768,p=.5496)
• 5 and 7/8-year-olds : initial position (F(4,65)=3.022,p=.0238)
• 7/8-year-olds: post-verbal position (F(4,65)=2.075,p=.0942)
• 11/12-year-olds and adults: alternance of initial and
grammatical positions
70,00%
60,00%
50,00%
40,00%
30,00%
20,00%
3-year-olds
10,00%
5-year-olds
7/8-year-olds
0,00%
lex
lex
prim
pro
sec
initial
gramm flexion gramm flexion
prim
sec
grammatical
lex
11/12-year-olds
sec
adults
post-verbal
Graph 3. Mean (%) of the distribution of the position, the characters and
the linguistic means used for the actor/agent perspective in the clauses
with two participants in the 4 episodes.
• Secondary characters = actor/agent (F(4,65)=5.172,p=.0011)
• 3-year-olds: grammatical options (F(4,65)=.522,p=.7199)
• 5 and 7/8-year-olds: lexical noun phrases
(F(4,65)=3.126,p=.0205)
• 11/12-year-olds and adults: alternance of grammatical and
lexical devices
• 11/12-year-olds: pronominals in remarkable proportion
(F(4,65)=5.409,p=.0008)
70,00%
60,00%
50,00%
40,00%
3-year-olds
5-year-olds
30,00%
7/8-year-olds
11/12-year-olds
20,00%
adults
10,00%
0,00%
initial
gramm
post-verbal
verbal
Graph 4. Mean (%) of the distribution of positions of the oblique/patient
perspective in the clauses with two participants in the 4 episodes
• 3-year-olds: grammatical forms (F(4,65)=3.187,p=.0188)
• 5 and 7/8-year-olds: initial position (F(4,65)=1.222,p=.3103)
• 11/12 ans and adults: initial position
70,00%
60,00%
50,00%
3-year-olds
40,00%
5-year-olds
30,00%
7/8-year-olds
11/12-year-olds
20,00%
adults
10,00%
0,00%
lex
pro
gramm flexion
prim
prim
initial
grammatical
lex
pro
prim
post-verbal
lex
pré-verb
sec
prim
verbal
Graph 5. Mean (%) of the distribution of the position, the characters and the
linguistic means used for the oblique/patient perspective in the clauses
with two participants in the 4 episodes.
•
•
•
•
•
Primary characters = oblique/patient (F(4,65)=1.322,p=.2713)
3-year-olds: grammatical options (F(4,65)=3.187,p=.0188)
5 and 7/8-year-olds: lexical noun phrases (F(4,65)=.685,p=.6050)
11/12-year-olds and adults: lexical noun phrases
Adults : pronominals in significative proportion
(F(4,65)=1.700,p=.1607)
Discussion
• Clauses with two participants: increase with
age
• 3 and 5-year-olds: intransitive clauses
• 7/8 and 11/12-year-olds: intransitive and
transitive clauses
• Adults: transitive clauses
• Secondary characters = actor/agent
• Primary characters = oblique/patient
↓
Secondary characters = do the action
Primary characters = affected by the action
• Oblique/patient perspective → increases with
age
! 3-year-olds = appearance of word order
which take the oblique/patient in perspective
• 3-year-olds = grammatical forms for the
perspective
• 5 and 7/8-year-olds = lexical noun phrases
whatever the perspective
• 11/12-year-olds and adults = alternation of
the 2 linguistics tools for the actor/agent,
lexical noun phrases for the oblique/patient
• Pronominal oblique/patient at the beginning
of sentences in 11/12-year-olds and adults =
surprising
↓
In Hungarian, personal pronouns used with a
tonic function
↓
Synthesis of parallel actions of the two
protagonists, thus contrasted
• Different linguistic tools depending on the age
groups → no mastery of the conventional rules of
referential coherence until the age of 11/12 years
↓
• Resort to different strategies :
- thematic subject strategy (pronominal forms to
refer to the main character irrespective of the
function),
- nominal strategy (full nominal even for maintaining
characters) )
- and anaphoric strategy ( pronominals for
maintaining reference but nominals for switching).
(Karmiloff-Smith 1981, Wigglesworth 1997).
• Position of the arguments in perspective →
link to the strategies mentionned above
3-year-olds = actor/agent or oblique/patient
integrated in the verbal form
5 and 7/8-year-olds = actor/agent or
oblique/patient in initial position
• Post-verbal position attested in the 7-8 year
olds
↓
Actor/agent taken in background
↓
Strong topicalization is compensated
11/12-year-olds and adults = initial and
grammatical positions for the actor/agent
and initial position for the oblique/patient
Conclusion
• 3-year-olds = attempt to alternate perspectives but
exclusively with verbal forms integrating the
affected character
• 5-year-olds = mastery already unsteady of the use
of the different ways to encode the actions
• 7/8-year-olds = “true” variation of the canonical
word order for pragmatic reasons
• From 7/8-year-olds = initial position favoured for
the argument in perspective or its integration in the
verbal form → choice depends on the discursive
function of the argument.
• Linguistic means selected to package the information
properly encoded to discursive functions → difficult to control
before 11/12-year-olds.
↓
• The establishment of the referential coherence not perfectly
mastered by the children
↓
• Use of different strategies (Karmiloff-Smith1981,
Wiglesworth, 1997, Fekete 2008)
- toddlers = pronominal forms (thematic strategy)
- oldest children = nominals (nominal strategy)
- adults = coordination of these two strategies (anaphoric
strategy)
• 7/8-year-olds = particular concerning the combination of
the linguistic means favoured and the position employed for
the argument in perspective
↓
Post-verbal position for the lexical AC/AG
↓
At the same time resort to the nominal strategy, and try to
compensate the difficulties of the referential task with the
help of the pragmatic functions of word order.
↓
Solution for the excessive lexicalization at the beginning of
the sentence → manipulation of the referents’ order
↓
This is another solution, which they already master, to put
the chosen element in background.
• Capacity of all the children to put the patients
of the action in perspective, using different
linguistic and pragmatic tools
• Most difficulties in the application of the
conventional rules of narration
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Voice: Form and Function. pp. 89-117. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
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developmental study.
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word order flexibility. pp. 83-116. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
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Journal of Written Language and Literacy, 5, 163-81.
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development of language production. In Deutsch, W. (Ed.). The child’s
construction of language. New York: Academic Press, 121-147.
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Tomasello, M. The new psychology of language : Cognitive and functional
approaches to language structure. pp. 1-39. Mahwah, NJ : Lawrence Erlbaum
• MacWhinney, B. (1977) Starting points. In Language, 53. pp. 152-168.
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