Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Sciences and Disorders

Document Type



Children, like adults, use referring expressions to refer to specific objects, events, or people. Research has provided insights into how children use referring expressions and the appearance of forms developmentally (Radford, 1990; Abu-Akel, et al., 2004; Pine & Lieven, 1997). This study examined how three, four, and five year-old children use referring expressions across increasingly more decontextualized tasks as defined by the Situational-Discourse-Semantic (SDS) Model (Norris & Hoffman, 1993, 2002) . The participants included 4 three-year-old, 12 four-year-old, and 20 five-year-old children. Language samples were elicited using seven tasks of increasing difficulty. The referring expressions produced for each task were categorized based on their usage, and then analyzed for similarities and differences in the frequencies and types of referring expressions used within and between contextualized and decontextualized levels, tasks, and age groups. A significant difference was found in how participants across the three different ages used referring expressions in the contextualized tasks versus the decontextualized tasks. The relationship between the task and category also revealed that the task significantly affected the number of referring expressions found in a given category across all of the participant age groups. Lastly, the difference between the participants in the three different age groups and the tasks was examined. Tasks 3, 6, and 7 all showed a significant group difference for performance on these tasks. Through this study, we have gained insights into referring expressions, including what they are and how they are used in contextualized and decontextualized language samples. In examining the language samples, we have started to explore how children use referring expressions, including the use of cohesive ties and types of errors children produce. Although looking at the language samples from this syntactic perspective is useful, this study also considers the effects of context and meaning and how these semantic-pragmatic variables affect the use of referring expressions. In addition, this study provides some early insights into effects of changing context and how this interacts with age.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Norris, Janet