On the role of frequency and similarity in the acquisition of subject and non-subject relative clauses

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Frequency and similarity are important determinants for the acquisition of children’s early item-based constructions. This paper argues that frequency and similarity are equally important for the development of more complex and intricate grammatical phenomena such as relative clauses. Specifically, the paper shows that the acquisition of relative clauses is crucially determined by the similarity between particular types of relative clauses and simple SVO constructions. Two specific hypotheses are proposed: First, since subject relatives have the same word order as ordinary SVO clauses, they usually cause fewer difficulties in comprehension studies than non-subject relatives. Second, while non-subject relatives are structurally distinct from SVO clauses, semantically they are expressed by prototypical transitive constructions, which arguably helps the child to learn this type of relative clause.


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