Nancy Goss (University of Delaware), James Gair & Barbara Lust (Cornell University) Shamitha Somashekar (Cornell University)
In this paper we report the results of a new experimental study (an act out/toy moving task) which tested the interpretation of 41 children in the Kadawatha area of Sri Lanka (aged 2.6 to 6.5 in 4 age groups) on three types of complex sentences. Based on an analysis of Sinhala verbal morphology and syntax (e.g., Gair 1970), three connectives were tested, allowing test for dissociation of finiteness, tense, and semantic temporality, as well as test for generalization and replication of previous results (Gair et al., 1989). Results (measuring children's coreference and disjoint reference judgements in interpretation) showed that children differentiated all connectives in their interpretation, and were sensitive to both syntactic finitieness and semantic tense in their complex sentence interpretation, from earliest ages tested. Results are discussed in terms of a Strong Continuity Theory of first language acquisition, and a modularity theory of Universal Grammar.