On the (impaired) acquisition of the mass-count distinction in Dutch
Witteloostuijn, M.T.G. van
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This research explores (the acquisition of) the syntactic mass-count distinction in Dutch. It is divided up into two studies. Study one investigates the mass-count distinction in Dutch speaking adults (N = 10, aged 19;7 – 26;10) and typically developing (TD) children (N = 90, aged 4;1 – 12;8). The second one examines the mass-count distinction in children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) (N = 25, aged 6;4 - 12;11). The experimental design for these two studies has been adapted from Barner and Snedeker’s (2005) quantity judgment task and is used to test how Dutch adults and children use mass-count syntax to distinguish nouns that quantify over individuals from those that do not. This design has previously been administered to English acquiring children (Barner & Snedeker, 2005), and revealed that 4-year old children perform adultlike regarding the mass-count distinction. However, using the same design to investigate the mass-count distinction in Hebrew speaking children (Hacohen & Schaeffer, in progress), results show that Hebrew speaking children have not mastered the mass-count distinction, not even at the age of 17. The results of study 1 indicate that Dutch speaking children’s sensitivity to the mass-count distinction starts to appear from age 6;2 onwards. Adultlike performance is achieved around the age of 8;0 for most conditions. For mass-count flexible terms (e.g. stone, stones), adultlike performance is not even achieved at the age of 12;6. The later development of the mass-count distinction in Dutch than English (but earlier than Hebrew) is argued to be due to the morphosyntactic mechanisms underlying the mass-count distinction available in Dutch. Additionally, the later acquisition of the correct interpretation of mass nouns compared to count nouns is argued to be due to the fact that count syntax (the presence of the plural morpheme) is a prominent cue to quantification over individuals, whereas mass syntax (the absence of the plural morpheme) is unspecified. Results of study 2 reveal that the mass-count distinction only starts to appear from the age of 10;0 for children with SLI, who perform significantly less accurately in conditions relying (partially) on morphosyntax than age and gender matched typically developing children. However, children with SLI were not outperformed by their typically developing peers on object mass nouns (e.g. furniture), which rely on a lexical feature. Therefore, the selective delay in comparison to their typically developing peers is argued to be due to their reported difficulties with morphosyntax (e.g. Cleave & Rice, 1997; Rice, Wexler, & Cleave, 1995).