Universiteit Leiden

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Dissertation

The Acquisition of Personal Pronouns in Cochlear-Implanted Children

This dissertation examines whether a cochlear implant provides congenitally deaf born children with sufficient auditory input to acquire low salient and syntactically and semantically complex functional items such as personal pronouns compared to their hearing peers.

Author
Annemie Verbist
Date
25 May 2010
Links
Full text in Leiden University Repository
Published by LOT

In this study, the acquisition of pronouns is considered to be a measure for the effectiveness of cochlear implantation. Firstly, personal pronouns, and in particular weak pronouns, are morphemes with low perceptual prominence and can therefore be hard to discriminate in incoming speech, especially by hearing-impaired children. Secondly, the acquisition of the pronominal paradigm is a difficult process due to its semantic complexity, lack of morphophonological regularity, and syntactically redundant status. Building on these insights, the goal of this study is to examine whether a cochlear implant provides congenitally deaf born children with sufficient auditory input to acquire low salient and syntactically and semantically complex functional items such as personal pronouns and to compare the results to those obtained in hearing peers. 

We will do so by investigating different developmental steps in the acquisition of personal pronouns. Firstly, we examine the acquisition of the pronominal paradigm and its morphological attributes between one and seven years of age: (1) the first emergence of a personal pronoun; (2) the building of a full pronominal paradigm; and (3) the ability to reach a target-like frequency of use of the full set of pronouns. Between seven and eight years of age, two more developmental steps are investigated: (4) the syntactic binding relation between a reflexive and accusative pronoun and its antecedent, and finally (5) the syntactic-pragmatic co-referring relation between a nominal expression and its antecedent. 

Based on the results of this study on the acquisition of personal pronouns in Dutch-speaking cochlear-implanted children, we consider cochlear implantation to yield a benefit for language acquisition in deaf born children. We have found that a cochlear implant implanted by 21 months of age may be considered to be an effective way to provide pre-lingual oral deaf children with the necessary sensory input to acquire personal pronouns and their syntactic and pragmatic relations with the antecedent. A child can thus achieve a target-like production and comprehension of grammatically complex morphemes with low prominence like personal pronouns despite an initial deprivation of auditory signals. 

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