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How does a speaker manage the active/inactive status of a referent in discourse?

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Sekine, K., & Sotaro, K. (2014). How does a speaker manage the active/inactive status of a referent in discourse?. Poster presented at the 13th Congress of the International Association for the Study of Child Language, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002C-0BE8-E
This study investigated how adults and children use speech and gesture to clarify whether a referent is active at a given moment in discourse. As Chafe (1987) argued, a referent that is newly introduced in a story becomes an active referent. Although the referent goes to semi - active referent as the story moves on to other topics, if the referent is mentioned again, it becomes active again. It is difficult to obtain direct evidence that a certain referent is semi - active when analyzing only spoken express ion. We propose that a semi -active referent is visible in two -handed gestures in which one hand depicts/indicates an active referent, referred to in the concurrent speech, and the other hand that is held in the air indicates a semi active referent. Partici pants were 10 native speakers of English; five 3 -year -olds (M = 3:8) and five adults (M = 27.6) (This is a renalaysis of existing data, reported in Özyürek et al., 2008). A set of 10 video clips depicting motion even was used to elicit speech and gesture. Gestures were coded one of the three categories; both hands gesture, single hand gesture, or single hand gesture with a semi -active -referent hold (one hand is depicting or indicating the active referent while the other hand is holding in the air to indicat e a semi -active referent). The proportion of the single gesture with a semi -active -referent hold was significantly higher in adults (A=20%) than in children (C=2%), t(8) = 2.38, p <.05. However, no significant different were found in the proportions of the both hand gesture (A=23%, C=33%) and the single hand gesture (A = 57%, C = 65%). Thus, 3 -year -olds use semi -active referents much less frequently than adults. The results will be discussed in relation to more indirect evidence for the development of semi -active referents in speech.