Symmetry in comprehension and production of pronouns: A comparison of German and Hebrew

Esther Ruigendijk*, Naama Friedmann, Rama Novogrodsky, Noga Balaban

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


In the course of language acquisition, children interpret pronouns differently from adults. In some languages and ages, children accept "The girl and grandma met, and then the girl drew her" as describing the girl drawing herself. This study tested whether this difficulty is symmetrically reflected in comprehension and production, by assessing the comprehension and production of pronouns and reflexives in children acquiring German and Hebrew. Comprehension was tested using a sentence-picture matching task in 44 German-speaking children aged 3;3-6;2, and 54 Hebrew-speaking children aged 2;4-6;7. Production was assessed using a sentence elicitation task for 44 German-speaking children aged 3;1-6;8, and 60 Hebrew-speaking children aged 2;4-6;7. The results indicate a very clear symmetry between comprehension and production of pronouns in language acquisition. German-speaking children master the comprehension of pronouns and do not allow for local antecedents for pronouns already from age 4;3, and they also do not use pronouns for local antecedents in production. Crucially, the Hebrew-speaking children, who allow local antecedents in pronoun interpretation up to age 6, also produce pronouns with local antecedents (namely, to describe reflexive actions) up to this age. An individual-level analysis of the performance of 50 Hebrew-speaking children who were tested in both comprehension and production yielded a similar symmetrical pattern: the children who incorrectly produced pronouns in the reflexive condition showed the same pattern in comprehension, choosing a reflexive picture (with local antecedent) for sentences with pronouns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1991-2005
Number of pages15
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Acquisition
  • Comprehension
  • German
  • Hebrew
  • Production
  • Pronouns
  • Reflexives


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