The effects of givenness on object order in Croatian monolingual children

Title of poster:

The Effect of Givenness on Object Order in Croatian Monolingual Children


Abstract proposal for poster:

This research investigates how monolingual Croatian children (n=56, ages 3;8-5;2, mean: 4;4) implement different givenness values in their ditransitive structures. Previous research shows that givenness influences object order and yields DO-IO with given themes, and IO-DO with given recipients (de Marneffe et al. 2012). However, the literature provides contrastive results: children produce both given-before-new and new-before-given utterances (Narasimhan and Dimroth 2008). The corpus data of Croatian ditransitives shows that children ages 2;5 produce both givenness orders. Our adult data indicates that adults have a give-before-new preference.

The experimental design consisted in a board that only the child could see and that functioned as a separator between the child and experimenter (Eisenbeiss 2011), the child had to describe images depicting ditransitive actions given by the experimenter and place them on the board. The test consists in four values of givenness: Nothing Given, DO Given, IO Given, All Given. We expect the influence of givenness on object order to become more relevant with age.

The results indicate the general trend is IO-DO (73% of all responses), presumably because the IO is animate. We found that the younger children (below the mean) significantly preferred IO-DO in the DO-G condition than in IO-G (84% of IO-DO in DO-G, 66% in IO-G, p<0.05). This indicates a preference of new-before-given when the DO is given. The older children did not seem to be affected by the givenness manipulation of the DO, and equally prefer IO-DO across all conditions.

So, givenness has an effect, but not the effect we were expecting since there is a new-before-given preference in younger children (DO-G condition). The effect of givenness becomes more relevant with age, because the proportion of new-before-given orders decreases significantly. More research is needed; the next step is neutralizing animacy and checking whether the givenness effect changes, along with examining the intonation of the objects.


  1. de Marneffe, M., Grimm, S., Arnon, I., Kirby, S. and Bresnan, J. (2012) “A statistical model of the grammatical choices in child production dative sentences.” Language and Cognitive Processes 27;1: 25-111
  2. Eisenbeiss, S. (2011) ‘CEGS: An elicitation took kit for studies on case marking and its acquisition’, Essex Research Reports in Linguistics, Vol. 60.1. Dept. of Language and Linguistics, University of Essex, Colchester, UK
  3. Narasimhan, B., & Dimroth, C. (2008). Word order and information status in child language. Cognition, 107(1), 317-329.