Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 285–304 | Cite as

Slowed Speech Input has a Differential Impact on On-line and Off-line Processing in Children’s Comprehension of Pronouns

  • Tracy Love
  • Matthew Walenski
  • David Swinney
Open Access


The central question underlying this study revolves around how children process co-reference relationships—such as those evidenced by pronouns (him) and reflexives (himself)—and how a slowed rate of speech input may critically affect this process. Previous studies of child language processing have demonstrated that typical language developing (TLD) children as young as 4 years of age process co-reference relations in a manner similar to adults on-line. In contrast, off-line measures of pronoun comprehension suggest a developmental delay for pronouns (relative to reflexives). The present study examines dependency relations in TLD children (ages 5–13) and investigates how a slowed rate of speech input affects the unconscious (on-line) and conscious (off-line) parsing of these constructions. For the on-line investigations (using a cross-modal picture priming paradigm), results indicate that at a normal rate of speech TLD children demonstrate adult-like syntactic reflexes. At a slowed rate of speech the typical language developing children displayed a breakdown in automatic syntactic parsing (again, similar to the pattern seen in unimpaired adults). As demonstrated in the literature, our off-line investigations (sentence/picture matching task) revealed that these children performed much better on reflexives than on pronouns at a regular speech rate. However, at the slow speech rate, performance on pronouns was substantially improved, whereas performance on reflexives was not different than at the regular speech rate. We interpret these results in light of a distinction between fast automatic processes (relied upon for on-line processing in real time) and conscious reflective processes (relied upon for off-line processing), such that slowed speech input disrupts the former, yet improves the latter.


Rate of speech Pronominal resolution Child language Sentence processing On-line and off-line processing 



The authors wish to thank Maxwell Moholy, Brianne Bricker, Justin Baker, Danielle Vignati, Richard Schwartz and Arild Hestvik for their contributions at various stages of this project. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, R01DC03885.

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Speech, Language and Hearing SciencesSan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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