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The theory of mind's role in pronoun acquisition : the phenomenon of pronoun reversal in typically developing children
Greta Mazzaggio, 2016, original scientific article

Abstract: This study’s aim is to understand how children learn first- and second-person singular pronouns. Many researchers tried to find possible connection between Theory of Mind (ToM) and the acquisition of pronouns. The ability to produce and comprehend first- and second-person singular pronouns seems closely linked with the ability to appreciate other people’s mental states: a lack or non-mature development of ToM may thus affect their competence in using pronouns. To strengthen this hypothesis we focused on the phenomenon of pronoun reversal, which mainly consists in the substitution of I for you, and you for I, testing a group of 17 typically developing children - 38 to 70 months of age. Due to its pro-drop classification, Italian is the focus language of this study. The outcome showed a correlation between the phenomena of ToM and pronoun reversal. Further research should focus on the directionality of this correlation and better our understanding of its meaning.
Keywords: pronoun reversal, pronouns, echolalia, theory of mind, typically developing children, psycholinguistics
Published in RUNG: 27.09.2021; Views: 1475; Downloads: 44
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Addressing the debate on pronoun reversal, caused by Theory of Mind or by Echolalia?
Greta Mazzaggio, invited lecture at foreign university

Abstract: Pronoun reversal is among the most interesting errors of early child language. It mainly consists in the substitution of I for you, and you for I; during these years, such reversal has often been associated mainly with Autistic Spectrum Disorder but recent studies have shown that the phenomena also occur in typically developing children with almost the same frequency (Evans, K.E., Demuth, K., 2012). Many theories on the cause of pronoun reversals have been proposed but the problem remains puzzling because a lot of children who reverse pronouns occasionally produce also correct forms. Moreover, it is a phenomenon which is not present in all the children (Dale, P.S., Crain- Thoreson, C., 1993). Of the two of the main hyphoteses related to pronoun reversal, one links it to a lack of a Theory of Mind (ToM), another relates it to echolalia. Based on two different surveys I conducted, I would like to address the debate. With the first study I wanted to verify whether pronoun reversals is related to a lack or to a non- mature development of ToM (Wechsler, S., 2010) testing a group of typically developing children with a series of ToM tasks ordered by a degree of complexity, from less to more complex. Then I created four tasks to verify their competence in using pronouns: focus position, pronoun with verb agreement, null form and pronouns other than first and second singular forms. We administered this experiment to a group of 17 Italian children - 38 to 70 months of age - because such tasks have never been performed before for Italian language. In this respect, Italian is more complex than English, mainly for two aspects: it’s a pro-drop language, that is a language in which some pronouns can be omitted if they are pragmatically inferable, and there is agreement between the subject pronoun and the verb, which is another factor that we must take into account. With the second study I analysed spontaneous speech uttered by a 15-years-old boy officially diagnosed with Kleefstra Syndrome and known to be a reverser, focusing on cases of pronoun reversal. At the end of the two studies I have data in favor of both ToM hypothesis and echolalia hypothesis. Further researches should verify if echolalia can be related with a lack of ToM and the differences in pronoun reversal between typically developing children and children with disorders.
Keywords: echolalia, language development, theory of mind, pronouns, pronoun reversal, autism developmental disorders
Published in RUNG: 22.09.2021; Views: 1526; Downloads: 0
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The production and comprehension of pronouns and verb inflections by Italian children with ASD : a new dataset in a pro-drop language
Greta Mazzaggio, Aaron Shield, 2021, published scientific conference contribution abstract

Abstract: Pronoun difficulties have long been a key feature in defining autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Most studies to-date have been conducted in English. Italian is a language in which subject pronouns are optional but verbs obligatorily exhibit person-referencing morphology. This study is the first to investigate the pronominal abilities of Italian children with ASD. We tested 26 Italian children with ASD and 35 typically developing (TD) children, matched for syntactic abilities. Pronouns were elicited in focus position and in conjunction with a verb. Children’s theory of mind, nonverbal intelligence, lexical knowledge, and pronoun comprehension were also tested. TD children produced the correct forms of 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd person pronouns significantly more often than the children with ASD, who were more likely to produce their own name rather than a pronoun. Children with ASD omitted optional subject pronouns significantly less often than TD children. Our data suggest that Italian children with ASD are generally able to acquire and use pronominal forms, but struggle with understanding when and where to use them appropriately, pointing to underlying challenges with pragmatics.
Keywords: pronouns, pronoun reversal, autism developmental disorders
Published in RUNG: 22.09.2021; Views: 1393; Downloads: 42
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Autism and pronoun reversal : a theory-of-mind perspective
Greta Mazzaggio, 2014, master's thesis

Abstract: My project aimed at giving a personal contribution to an important international debate relevant to psycholinguistics. In particular, I studied the relationship between Theory of Mind (ToM) and the production of first- and second-person pronouns in typically developing children (TD) and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).Moving from the dense general framework of references I created an experimental protocol with the main goal to test the existent and newest hypotheses on ToM consequential development and on the differences between the phenomena of pronoun reversal (PR) in TD children and children with ASD, to have, at the end of the hypothetical experiment, some data that can prove a correlation between the phenomena of PR and a lack or a deficit in ToM. The newness of my experimental protocol is the Italian native children target; Italian language is pro-drop and it has the agreement between the subject pronoun and the verb, for this reason it has never been studied to find possible a validation of previous studies and theories on other languages.The experiment will be structured with two batteries of tests, the first that will be a translation and adaptation in Italian of Wellmann and Liu’s seven tasks (2004) to assess the level of Theory of Mind and to verify the consequentiality hypothesis, and the second, formed by two tasks, that will assess the level of production of first- and second-person pronouns, focusing on the phenomena of PR. The objective of my potential experiment is to find a correlation between the two phenomena cited above; it can be a good starting point for further analyses on the direction of this theorized connection.
Keywords: pronoun reversal, autism developmental disorders, theory of mind, echolalia, pronouns
Published in RUNG: 22.09.2021; Views: 1758; Downloads: 0
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