Relative clause acquisition and representation

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According to usage-based approaches, representations and processing of linguistic constructions emerge from usage events. We present corpus data, which show that object relative clauses are mostly attached to an inanimate head NP and contain a pronominal subject (<i>the ball that he just threw</i>). In two experiments, English- and German-speaking children were best at processing object relatives identical in form and function to these frequent exemplars. In contrast to earlier studies, we did not find that subject relatives were always easier to process than object relatives. Our data provide further evidence suggesting that children and adults do fine-grained analyses of their linguistic input, and that linguists should do the same to derive hypotheses about the nature of linguistic representations and processing.


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