Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft Leibniz-Gemeinschaft

PB2 - Discourse-cohesive means in mono- and bilingual language acquisition

Research topics



The research of PB 2 considers the development of intersentential anaphoric relations. Contemporarily, we are investigating the anaphoric capacities of null, personal, demonstrative and relative pronouns at the age of 3 to 6  in German, Russian and Bulgarian.  Main questions are: What criteria do children use to determine the anaphoric capacities of these pronoun types, i.e. what semantic or syntactic properties of antecedents are correlated with what type of pronoun? Are these correlations categorically determined or do children allow variation according to the context and varying property clusters? How do the criteria for anaphoric relations change over age?

Research topics

How do children know what is meant by words without a constant general content like he or shethis orthatsome or any, given that the meaning of such words has to be inferred from preceding utterances? How can children learn to use such words to maintain focus on one specific thing or person out of a presumably great number of persons and things mentioned in the previous discourse? The research project is concerned with the basic knowledge types which the child has to acquire in order to keep track of the referents meant by the communication partners. Consider the following examples from German:

a. Der Vater traf gestern seinen Bruder. Er hat sich sehr gefreut.
'The father met his brother yesterday. He was really happy.'

b. Der Vater traf gestern seinen Bruder. Der hat sich sehr gefreut.
'The father met his brother yesterday. This one was really happy.'

German speakers preferably use the pronoun er in (a) to talk about the subject of the clause, the father. The pronoun der in (b) signals that they will go on to talk about the less central referent, the brother.

The single steps and factors involved in the acquisition of such pronoun resolution strategies call for a more profound investigation. This will provide useful information about the process of language acquisition and enlarge the empirical basis of linguistic theory. Contextually referring entities (anaphora) present the theoretical linguist with an opportunity to investigate the interaction of syntactic, semantic and pragmatic factors in the organisation of the language system. Anaphora research gains in importance through the practical problems it has to solve in natural language processing, e.g. machine translation. The correct depiction of referential dependences established in complex texts and dialogues presents a challenge not only in the domain of computer implementation, but needs a deeper understanding also in the field of human language acquisition. Even for the purpose of a simple conversation children have to sort out who or what is being talked about, and what are the appropriate expressions to go on with the topic. The use of anaphoric means becomes complicated by the complex interactions of the numerous factors involved. Language acquisition studies and especially comparative studies can contribute to our knowledge of the basic factors and strategies guiding the anaphoric reference establishment.

Central to the project investigation are comparative experimental studies conducted with German, Russian and Bulgarian children at the age of 3 to 6 years. At the current stage, we concentrate on monolingual children acquiring German, Russian and Bulgarian as a first language. Based on the findings about the mechanisms of anaphoric use in monolingual children, the second stage of the project will target the co-reference establishment strategies of bilingual children.

The theoretical discussion of adult anaphora resolution brings to the fore the following main factors. These are proposed to promote a single referent out of those available from the immediately preceding utterance: the syntactic role of the referent (subject vs. object), its animacy status, its information status (old or new information) or its syntactic or semantic parallels to the anaphoric pronoun. We seek to provide answers to the following questions:

1. Which of these factors are operative in child anaphora resolution? From which age on do these factors constitute a part of the "anaphora" knowledge of the child?

2. Are these factors relevant for the anaphora acquisition process in all three investigated languages or are there language-specific differences? If there are any, how can they be explained?

3. Which general steps can be singled out in the acquisition of the investigated pronominal anaphora?  Which factors and strategies are the basic ones?

4. Adults are thought to refer to the most salient referent using the formally simplest (shortest) anaphor but to referents which are not at the focus of attention by more complex means. Do children employ such a reversed mapping between referent's salience and pronominal complexity?

At the second stage of the project, we will focus on two main research topics: detection of differences between monolingual and bilingual anaphora acquisition and verification of techniques and factors found to be relevant in monolingual co-reference establishment. We plan to compare bilingual anaphora acquisition in the language pairings German/ Russian and German/Bulgarian. The basic questions remaining the same, particular effects of factors operative in monolingual anaphora resolution will be investigated in greater depth against the background of bilingual language acquisition. 


  • Armon-Lotem, Sharon, Joel Walters & Natalia Gagarina. 2011. The impact of internal and external factors on linguistic performance in the home language and in L2 among Russian-Hebrew and Russian-German preschool children. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1(3). 291-317.
  • Bittner, Dagmar. 2009. Die menschliche Sprache. Gibt es ein Grammatik-Gen?. Trillium-Report MedizinInnovativ 7/4. 160.
  • Bittner, Dagmar & Damaris Bartz. 2017. Finiteness in early but-clauses in German L1-acquisition. First Language. 1-22.
  • Chilla, Solveig, Annette Fox-Boyer & Natalia Gagarina. 2015. Dvuyazyčie/Bilingvizm. Spravočnik dlja roditelej. [Bilingualism. A guidebook for parents] . Wetzlar: Schulz-Kirchner-Verlag.
  • Dressler, Wolfgang U., Katarzyna Dziubalska-Kołaczyk, Natalia Gagarina & Marianne Kilani-Schoch. 2015. Reduplication, Repetition, Hypercharacterization, and Other Affix-Doubling in Child Language. In Stela Manova (ed.), Affix Ordering Across Languages and Frameworks, 259-275. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2016. Narratives of Russian-German preschool and primary school bilinguals: rasskaz and Erzaehlung. Applied Psycholinguistics 37. in press.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2014. Die Erstsprache bei Mehrsprachigen im Migrationskontext. In Solveig Chilla & Stefanie Haberzettl (eds.), Mehrsprachigkeit. Reihe Handbuch Sprachentwicklung und Sprachentwicklungsstörungen, Band 4, 19-37. München: Elsevier.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2014. Diagnostik von Erstsprachkompetenzen im Migrationskontext. In Solveig Chilla & Stefanie Haberzettl (eds.), Mehrsprachigkeit. Reihe Handbuch Sprachentwicklung und Sprachentwicklungsstörungen, Band 4, 73-84. München: Elsevier.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2014. Morphological Development. In Patricia J. Brooks & Vera Kempe (eds.), Encyclopedia of language development, 382-387. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2013. Sprachdiagnostik in der Erstsprache mehrsprachiger Kinder (am Beispiel des Russischen). Sprache. Stimme. Gehör 37, 196-200.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2013. Önce Türkçe ya da Rusça ve sonra Almanca: Kökendili Çokdillilik Bağlamında Neden Çok Önemlidir. [Erst Türkisch oder Russisch, dann Deutsch: warum die Herkunftssprache bei Mehrsprachigkeit so wichtig ist.]. In Die Gaste, Die Gaste 29, 1-2.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2012. Discourse cohesion in the elicited narratives of early Russian-German sequential bilinguals. In Kurt Braunmüller & Christoph Gabriel (eds.), Multilingual Individuals and Multilingual Societies, 101–120. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2012. Elicited narratives of monolingual Russian-speaking preschoolers: A comparison of typically developing children and children with language disorders. In Luka Szucsich, Natalia Gagarina, Elena Gorishneva & Joanna Leszkowicz (eds.), Linguistische Beiträge zur Slavistik XIX, 71-90.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2011. Acquisition and loss of L1 in a Russian-German bilingual child: A case study. In Stella Cejtlin (ed.), Monolingual and bilingual path to language, 137-163. Moskau: Jazyki slavjanskoj kul’tury.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2010. Cognitive linguistics and first language acquisition (patterns of anaphora resolution). In Tanja Anstatt & Boris Norman (eds.), Die slawischen Sprachen im Licht der kognitiven Linguistik, 59-75. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2009. Synergetika i samoorganizacija glagol’nych form v detskoj reči [Synergetik und Selbstorganization grammatischer Formen im Spracherwerb]. In Larisa A. Piotrovskaja & Valentina D. Černjak (eds.), Jazykovaja kartina mira. Leksika. Tekst. K jubileju N. E. Sulimenko, 134-137. St. Petersburg: RGPU imeni A. I. Gercena.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2009. Parallelism as an anaphora resolution factor in Russian. In Tatjana A. Tripolskaja (ed.), Diskretnost' i kontinual'nost' v jazyke i tekste: Mežvuzovskij sbornik naučnych trudov, Novosibirsk: NGPU.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2009. Verbs of motion in Russian: An acquisitional perspective. Slavic and East European Journal 53. 351-370.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2009. Functional and modal elements in child Russian. In Christine Dimroth & Peter Jorden (eds.), Functional elements: Variation in learner systems, 261-281. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2009. The acquisition of case and number in Russian. In Ursula Stephany & Maria Voeikova (eds.), Cross-linguistic approaches to the acquisition of case and number, 179-215. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2008. Formirovanie grammaticheskih kategorij vida i vremeni, lica i chisla na rannih jetapah rechevogo ontogeneza.[Entstehung von verb grammatischer Kategorien: Tempus, Aspekt, Person und Numerus im früheren Spracherwerb]. Acta Linguistica Petropolitana 3. 7- 64.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2008. K voprosu o principah analiza grammaticheskih kategorij i glagol'nyh form v detskoj rechi. [Prinzipien der Analyse von grammatischen Kategorien und finiten Formen im Spracherwerb]. Sibirskij filologicheskij zhurnal 2008 (4). 173-181.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2008. Gestufte nature of aspectual pairs. In Bernhard Brehmer, Katrin Bente Fischer & Gertje Krumbholz (eds.), Aspekte, Kategorien und Kontakte slavischer Sprachen. Festschrift für Volkmar Lehmann zum 65. Geburtstag, 161-172. Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovač.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2008. Anaphoric pronouns in bilingual German-Russian children. Zeitschrift für Slawistik 53. 326-338.
  • Gagarina, Natalia. 2008. Stanovlenie grammatičeskich kategorij russkogo glagola v detskoj reči [Entstehung der grammatischen Kategorien des russischen Verbs im Erstspracherwerb] . St. Petersburg: Nauka.
  • Gagarina, Natalia & Alexandra Reichel. 2013. Zajcy rasplavjat kogti I Zhish' ty hir? Innovacii russko-nemeckojazychnyh detej doshkol'nogo vozrasta [The hare will melt claws and Do you live zdes’? The innovations of the preschool Russian-German bilinguals]. In T. A. Krugljakova & T. V. Kuz’mina (eds.), St. Petersburg School of Ontolinguistics. Festschrift S. N. Ceytlin, 195-212. St. Petersburg: Zlatoust.
  • Gagarina, Natalia & Dorota Kiebzak-Mandera. 2009. Ličnyje mestoimenija tret’ego lica v anaforičeskoj funkcii v pol’skom i russkom jazykach [Personalpronomen der dritten Person in anaphorischer Funktion im Polnischen und Russischen]. In Tatjana A. Krugljakova, Marina B. Eliseeva, Maria A. Elivanova & Irina N. Levina (eds.), Problemy ontolingvistiki - 2009. Materialy meždunarodnoj konferencii, 297-298. St. Petersburg: Zlatoust.
  • Gagarina, Natalia & Marina Eliseeva. 2009. Emergence of case meanings in Russian – empirical evidence from one month, from one child. Ad verba liberorum: Linguistics, Pedagogy and Psychology 1.1. 40-47.
  • Gagarina, Natalia et al.s. 2014. Age, input quantity and their effect on linguistic performance in the home and societal language among Russian-German and Russian-Hebrew preschool children. In Rainer Silbereisen, Peter Titzmann & Yossi Shavit (eds.), The Challenges of Diaspora Migration: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Israel and Germany, 63-82. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing.
  • Gagarina, Natalia, Annegret Klassert & Nathalie Topaj. 2010. Sprachstandstest Russisch für mehrsprachige Kinder / Russian language proficiency test for multilingual children (ZAS Papers in Linguistics 54, Sonderheft). Berlin: ZAS.
  • Gagarina, Natalia, Daleen Klop, Ianthi M. Tsimpli & Joel Walters. 2016. Introduction to the Special Issue on Narrative Abilities in Bilingual Children. Applied Psycholinguistics 37. in press.
  • Gagarina, Natalia, Daleen Klop, Sari Kunnari, Koula Tantele, Taina Välimaa, Ingrida Balčiūnienė, Ute Bohnacker & Joel Walters. 2015. Assessment of Narrative Abilities in Bilingual Children. In Sharon Armon-Lotem, Jan de Jong & Natalia Meir (eds.), Assessing Multilingual Children, 243-269. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
  • Gagarina, Natalia, Daleen Klop, Sari Kunnari, Koula Tantele, Taina Välimaa, Ingrida Balčiūnienė, Ute Bohnacker & Joel Walters. 2012. MAIN: Multilingual Assessment Instrument for Narratives (ZAS Papers in Linguistics 56). Berlin: ZAS.
  • Gagarina, Natalia, Dorothea Posse, Stefanie Düsterhöft, Nathalie Topaj & Duygu Acikgöz. 2014. Sprachförderung bei Mehrsprachigkeit: Erste Ergebnisse der BIVEM-Studie zur Wirksamkeit von Sprachförderung bei jüngeren mehrsprachigen Kindern: Eine Studie des Berliner Interdisziplinären Verbundes für Mehrsprachigkeit (BIVEM). In Anne Adelt, Tom Fritzsche, Jennifer Roß & Stefanie Düsterhöft (eds.), Spektrum Patholinguistik 7, 139–148. Potsdam: Universitätsverlag Potsdam.
  • Gotzner, Nicole & Anton Benz. 2018. The Best Response Paradigm: A New Approach to Test Implicatures of Complex Sentences. Frontiers in Communication. 2:21.
  • Gülzow, Insa, Victoria Bartlitz, Milena Kuehnast, Felix Golcher & Dagmar Bittner. 2018. The adversative connectives 'aber' and 'but' in conversational corpora. Journal of Child Language. 1-15.
  • Hazel Pearson & Jeruen E. Dery. 2013. Dreaming de re and de se: Experimental evidence for the Oneiric Reference Constraint. Proceedings of the 18th Sinn und Bedeutung Conference. 322-339.
  • Katsos, Napoleon, Kazuko Yatsushiro, Uli Sauerland, Natalia Gagarina & alii.. 2012. The acquisition of quantification across languages: Some predictions. In Alia K. Biller, Esther Y. Chung & Amelia Kimball (eds.), Proceedings of the 26th Annual Boston University Conference on Child Language Development, volume 2, 258-268.
  • Klassert, Annegret & Natalia Gagarina. 2010. Der Einfluss des elterlichen Inputs auf die Sprachentwicklung bilingualer Kinder: Evidenz aus russischsprachigen Migrantenfamilien in Berlin. Diskurs Kindheits- und Jugendforschung 4. 413-425.
  • Klassert, Annegret, Natalia Gagarina & Christina Kauschke. 2014. Object and action naming in Russian- and German-speaking monolingual and bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 17(1). 73-88.
  • Maviş, İlknur, Müge Tunçer & Natalia Gagarina. 2016. Macrostructure Components in Narrations of Turkish-German Bilingual Children. Applied Psycholinguistics 37. in press.
  • Sauermann, Antje. 2016. Impact of the type of referring expression on the acquisition of word order variation . Potsdam: Universitätsverlag Potsdam.
  • Sauermann, Antje & Barbara Höhle. 2016. Impact of context and type of referring expression on sentence comprehension in German-speaking children. In Laurel Perkins, Rachel Dudley, Juliana Gerard & Kasia Hitczenko (eds.), roceedings of the 6th Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA 2015), 90-101. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
  • Sauermann, Antje & Barbara Höhle. 2013. Corpus investigation of information-structural ordering preferences in German-speaking children and adults. In Stavroula. Stavrakaki, Marina Lalioti & Polyxeni Konstantinopoulou, Advances in Language Acquisition, 173-181. Newcastle upon Tyn: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Sauermann, Antje, Damaris Bartz & Natalia Gagarina. 2018. Diskurs und der Erwerb diskursiver Fähigkeiten. In ZAS, Das Forschungsjahr 2017, 19-30.
  • Sauermann, Antje, Ruth Filik & Kevin B. Paterson. 2013. Processing contextual and lexical cues to focus: Evidence from eye movements in reading. Language and Cognitive Processes 28. 875-903.
  • Sekerina, Irina & Antje Sauermann. 2015. Visual attention and quantifier-spreading in heritage Russian bilinguals. Second Language Research 31(1). 75-104.
  • Skerra, Antje, Flavia Adani & Natalia Gagarina. 2013. Diskurskohäsive Mittel in Erzählungen als diagnostischer Marker für Sprachentwicklungsstörungen. In Tom Fritzsche, Corinna B. Meyer, Anne Adelt & Jennifer Roß (eds.), Spektrum Patholinguistik 6, 123–154.
  • Tribushinina, Elena, Natalia Gagarina & Eva Valcheva. 2014. Acquisition of additive connectives by Russian-German bilinguals: A usage-based approach. In Jacqueline Evers-Vermeul, Laurent Raiser & Elena Tribushinina (eds.), Usaged-based Approaches to Language Acquisition and Language Teaching, .
  • Walters, Joel, Sharon Armon-Lotem, Carmit Altman, Nathalie Topaj & Natalia Gagarina. 2014. Language Proficiency and Social Identity in Russian-Hebrew and Russian-German Preschool Children. In Rainer Silbereisen, Peter Titzmann & Yossi Shavit (eds.), The Challenges of Diaspora Migration: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Israel and Germany, 45-62. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing.
  • Łuniewska, Magdalena, Ewa Haman, Natalia Gagarina et al.. 2015. Ratings of age of acquisition of 299 words across 25 languages: Is there a cross-linguistic order of words?. Behavior Research Methods 47. 1-24.


  • Acquisition of Discourse Phenomena Across Languages and Populations (ADILP). ZAS, 16. - 17.10.2015
  • Workshop 'Text competence in production and perception: MAIN'. ZAS, 26. - 28.04.2013
  • Therapieworkshop. ZAS; 26.04.2013
  • Discourse cohesive means in acquisition (DiCMA). ZAS, 11. - 13.03.2012
  • Workshop 'Cost Action IS0804: Language Impairment in a Multilingual Society: Linguistic Pattern and the Road to Assessment' / WG2 'Narrative and Discourse'. Berlin, 09. - 14.09.2011
  • Workshop 'Discourse phenomena in language acquisition' (DiLA). ZAS, 14.04.2011
  • AG 'Textkohärenz und Textverstehen bei Erwachsenen und Kindern'. DGfS-Jahrestagung, U Göttingen, 23. - 25.02.2011
  • Let the children speak: Learning of critical language skills across 25 languages. COST Action A33, final workshop, London, 22. - 24.01.2010
  • COST Training School in Language Acquisition Methods, ZAS Berlin, 30.03.-03.04.2009
  • Symposium: Intersentential pronominal reference, 11th IASCL Conference, Edinburgh, Juli 2008