Prerequisites of Third-Person Pronoun Use in Monolingual and Bilingual Children With Autism and Typical Language Development

Natalia Meir, Rama Novogrodsky

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18 Scopus citations


The current study investigated the production of third-person subject and object pronouns in monolingual and bilingual children with High Functioning Autism (HFA) and typical language development (TLD). Furthermore, it evaluated the underlying linguistic and non-linguistic prerequisites of pronoun use, by assessing the role of morpho-syntactic skills, Theory of Mind (ToM) abilities, working memory and inhibition on pronoun use. A total of 85 children aged 4 to 9 years participated in four groups: 27 children with HFA [14 monolingual (monoHFA) and 13 bilingual (biHFA)], and 58 children with TLD [28 monolingual (monoTLD) and 30 bilingual (biTLD)]. All children spoke Hebrew and the bilingual children spoke Russian as their Heritage Language. Third-person subject and object pronouns were elicited in Hebrew. The results yielded no effect of bilingualism, and a robust effect of HFA on the use of pronouns. Bilingual Russian-Hebrew speaking children paired up with their monolingual Hebrew-speaking peers in pronominal use in Hebrew. Monolingual and bilingual children with TLD showed nearly ceiling performance on pronoun use. The facilitative effect of pronominal acquisition in Hebrew among bilingual children was attributed to similarities in the pronominal systems of the two languages of bilingual children. Age was found to be a predictive factor of pronoun use in children with TLD. Conversely, children with HFA had a lower rate of pronoun production compared to the TLD groups. Both third-person subject and object pronouns were largely predicted by morpho-syntactic abilities of children with HFA. In addition, subject pronoun use was predicted by ToM skills and working memory confirming that pronoun use is a complex phenomenon, which requires integration of multiple linguistic and non-linguistic components. To conclude, our findings suggest that morpho-syntactic development is a prerequisite for third-person subject and object pronoun use in children with HFA, and ToM and working memory are involved in third-person subject pronoun use. In addition, we show that pronoun use is not compromised by dual language exposure in children with TLD and with HFA.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2289
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2019 Meir and Novogrodsky.


The authors thank Revital Bazes and Marissa Harston for assistance in data collection. Funding. RN was funded by the ISF Grant No. 1068/16.

FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation1068/16


    • Theory of Mind
    • bilingualism
    • high-functioning autism
    • inhibition
    • morpho-syntax
    • pronoun use
    • working memory


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