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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01301

Subject and object pronouns in high-functioning children with ASD of a null subject language

  • 1Technological Educational Institute of Western Greece, Greece
  • 2Department of Linguistics, Universität Konstanz, Germany
  • 3School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, United Kingdom
  • 4National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
  • 5Kuwait Centre for Mental Health, Kuwait

Although the use of pronouns has been extensively investigated in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), most studies have focused on English, and no study to date has investigated the use of subject pronouns in null subject languages. The present study aims to fill this gap by investigating the use of subject and object pronouns in 5- to 8-year-old Greek-speaking high-functioning children with ASD compared to individually matched typically developing age and language controls. The ‘Frog where are you’ (Mayer, 1969) narrative task was used to elicit subject and object pronouns as well as DPs. Greek is a null subject language, and as a result, subject pronouns most often remain without phonological content. The results showed that both groups used more null than overt subject pronouns, indicating that children with ASD know that Greek is a null subject language. TD children used more null subjects than subject DPs, whereas children with ASD used an equal proportion of null subjects and subject DPs. In terms of object pronouns, both groups produced more clitics and object DPs than strong object pronouns, but the difference between clitics and DPs did not reach significance in either of the groups. Importantly, the groups did not differ from each other in the use of ambiguous pronouns in both the subject and object position. The ASD children’s avoidance to use pronominal subjects can be taken as evidence that they use a strategy to avoid infelicitous reference. This would suggest that the ASD children’s difficulties with pronouns is not due to difficulties in core grammar.

Keywords: Autism (ASD), subject pronouns, object pronouns, Null subject languages, Greek

Received: 30 Jan 2019; Accepted: 17 May 2019.

Edited by:

Alexandra Perovic, University College London, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Anna MAria Di Sciullo, Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada
Maria Garraffa, Heriot-Watt University, United Kingdom
Nadezhda (Nadya) Modyanova, Montana State University, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Terzi, Marinis, Zafeiri and Francis. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Theodoros Marinis, Universität Konstanz, Department of Linguistics, Konstanz, Germany, t.marinis@uni-konstanz.de