The effects of discourse topic on global and local markers in Croatian ditransitives

This study investigates the impact that discourse topic (DT) has on (i) word order (global marking) and (ii) referring expression (local marking) in ditransitive structures in Croatian preschoolers and adult controls.

According to general pragmatic principles, the DT argument is expected to be placed before the rest of the sentence, thus complying with the (discourse)topic-comment order (Gundel 1988). It is also expected to be more likely to be expressed with a clitic or omitted altogether (Gundel, Hedberg, and Zacharski 1993).

We tested 58 monolingual Croatian children (mean age= 4;4) and 36 adult controls (mean age=21) in three conditions with different DTs (subject, direct object and indirect object) by using storybooks to elicit ditransitive structures, either the direct object-indirect object (DO-IO) or the indirect object-direct object order (IO-DO).

The results reveal that DT has an impact both on adult word order (DT-comment order) and referring expressions choice, while it has an effect only on children’s referring expressions, as the children use IO-DO 75% of the time regardless of DT condition. This is in line with previous studies that find that children mark givenness/newness first on local and then on global markings (Hickmann et al. 1996, Anderssen et al. 2014, Mykhaylyk, Rodina, and Anderssen 2013). We also find that children are over-specific as their use of NPs is higher than the adults’ use throughout the task (p.value=0.0006347).


Keywords: discourse topic, givenness, ditransitives, word order, referring expressions