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A Cross-Linguistic Perspective on the Acquisition of Causal Connectives and Relations

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Causality is one of the most frequent coherence relations linking sentences together within texts and discourses, and mastering them is an essential part of acquiring a language. In this paper, we investigate the way French- and Dutch-speaking children acquire these relations depending on the way they are encoded in their mother tongue. From a cross-linguistic perspective, important differences exist in the communication of causal relations. While in some languages like Dutch, objective relations linking causes with consequences and subjective relations linking claims and conclusions are prototypically conveyed by a specific connective, in others like English and spoken French, a single connective is used in both cases. In this paper, we study the impact of these cross-linguistic differences for children’s ability to understand causal relations in a text. Our results indicate that French- and Dutch-speaking children have a similar ability to handle objective and subjective causal relations. In addition, subjective relations remain more difficult than objective relations even at the age of eight. We conclude that conceptual development sets the pace for lexical acquisition and discuss the causes for the acute difficulty of subjective relations.

Affiliations: 1: University of Fribourg, Switzerland ; 2: Utrecht University, The Netherlands ; 3: Utrecht University, The Netherlands


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