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Explicit coherence relations in children’s and adults’ spoken narratives: the importance of und for the acquisition of German connectives

From the book Referential and Relational Discourse Coherence in Adults and Children

  • Henning Czech


This study investigates the usage of German connectives in spoken narratives of the so called ‘frog stories’ by children aged 3, 5 and 9 as well as by young adults. Two aspects are looked at separately: a) the distribution of connectives in terms of their syntactic classes, and b) the distribution of coherence relations marked by these connectives. It is shown that both syntactic and semantic aspects play a crucial role for the acquisition of connectives. Moreover, the coordinating conjunction und is analysed in detail because it is the most polysemous German connective. In particular, it is tested whether the usage of und can be compared to that of its English equivalent and. At first sight, the results indicate that this is not unreservedly the case: As speakers get older, the distribution of coherence relations expressed by und does not remain constant in the narratives of the four age groups. Thus, the results reported for and by Peterson and McCabe (1987) cannot be replicated for und. Furthermore, und is not increasingly restricted to additive relations instead. To get a clearer picture of the underlying circumstances, a subsequent analysis of English frog stories is added, which suggests similarities between German und and its English equivalent. Since Peterson and McCabe’s (1987) data are based on free narratives of personal experiences, the results of the present study illustrate that at least the usage of English and is presumably strongly dependent on the respective method of speech elicitation.

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