Chapter 3. Learning from social interaction

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According to usage-based and constructivist approaches to language development, linguistic categories and structures have semantic content and a communicative function. Relative clauses (RCs) serve a variety of functions in spoken discourse. Depending on their function, RCs occur in different discourse and linguistic contexts and are marked by different formal, semantic, and lexical features. This has largely been ignored in studies that investigated children’s processing of these complex structures. I will summarize cross-linguistic corpus studies that analyzed the form and function of RC constructions in children’s and adults’ speech. Furthermore, I will summarize findings from recent cross-linguistic experiments that suggest that children’s processing of RC constructions is constrained by the form and function of RCs as they are used in social interactions as well as by the form and function of other related, more frequent constructions. Most of the corpus and experimental data come from children learning English, German, Japanese, or Cantonese because there are comparable studies, but I will also indicate when there is data from other languages.


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