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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Extending the language of space into abstract contexts in child Hungarian
by Fidler, Ashley Elmendorf, Ph.D., Georgetown University, 2010, 216; 3426464
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation investigates the acquisition of abstract locative expressions (e.g., on Saturday) by child speakers of Hungarian from the perspective of conceptual metaphor theory (e.g., Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, 1999) and usage-based language development (e.g., Tomasello, 2003).

Adult abstract language is often studied from the perspective of conceptual metaphor theory, an approach which claims that people understand and speak about abstract concepts in terms of concrete ones. Given that abstract domains must be organized in terms of concrete ones under this view, we should expect children to extend what they know about concrete space into the abstract domain. Research into child language development, however, suggests that children are able to memorize and use linguistic chunks before they fully understand them. This raises the question of whether children think and speak about abstract concepts from a concrete foundation, or whether they gradually learn the correspondences between abstract and concrete concepts and lexical items as their linguistic knowledge increases.

Five experiments were conducted to investigate whether preschool-aged children apply what they know about concrete locative marking to their production and comprehension of abstract expressions. Experiment 1 asked whether and for how long children would use concrete locative marking more accurately than abstract marking. Experiment 2 investigated the source of a common error with the time marker -kor (at (a time)), asking whether its source was conceptual or linguistic. Experiments 3 and 4 asked whether children would apply their knowledge of concrete locative systematicity (e.g., that into is the opposite of out of) in novel and unusual domains. Finally, Experiment 5 used a priming task to ask whether children would exhibit a lexical or conceptual connection between the abstract and concrete senses of locative markers.

Taken together, these experiments suggest that there is an essential difference in how children produce and comprehend abstract locatives when compared to adults. It seems likely that children only gradually build relationships between the abstract and concrete senses of locative markers as their semantic knowledge increases. This suggests that in adults, as well, concrete locative systems provide only a secondary means of organization for abstract locative expressions.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lardiere, Donna
Commitee: Babarczy, Anna, Barr, Rachel
School: Georgetown University
Department: Linguistics
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 71/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics, Developmental psychology
Keywords: Abstract language, Case morphology, Conceptual metaphor theory, Hungarian, Hungary, Language development, Spatial language
Publication Number: 3426464
ISBN: 978-1-124-27423-2
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