# Children s acquisition of relative clauses. Holger Diessel

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1 Children s acquisition of relative clauses Holger Diessel

2 Structure of relative clauses External syntax (1) The guy we saw was Peter. (2) I know the guy you are talking about. (3) Peter gave the man we saw the keys. (4) He lives in the same house where Peter lives. (5) That s the picture I made. Internal syntax (1) The man who slept. (2) The man I met. (3) The man I gave the picture to. (4) The man I talked to. (5) The man whose dog chased the cat.

3 Experimental studies (1) The dog that jumps over the fence bumps into the lion. (2) The dog bumps into the lion that jumps over the fence. Tavakolian (1977) (1) This is the sugar that goes in there. [Nina 3;0] (2) That s a picture I made. [Adam 3;0] (3) The one I want [Abe 2;10] (4) The one who laughed. [Abe 2;11]

4 Children s spontaneous REL-clauses Age range Finite Nonfinite Adam Sarah Nina Peter Naomi 2;3-4;10 2;3-5; ;11-3; ;9-3; ;8-3; ;9-5;

5 Children s spontaneous REL-clauses (1) *CHI: And here's a rabbit that I'm patting. Nina 3;0 (2) *CHI: And there's the penguins that we saw. Nina 3;1 (3) *CHI: Is that house that's on fire? Peter 2;10 (4) *FAT: No what did you eat? Abe 3;6 *CHI: Some apples that were sweet. (5) *MOT: What are those? Nina 3;2 *CHI: Animals that are chasing that. (6) *FAT: What lion face? Abe 3;11 *CHI: The lion face you were gonna draw.

6 Children s spontaneous REL-clauses (1) That s doggy turn around. Nina 1;11 (2) This is my doggy crys. Nina 2;0 (3) That s a turtle swim. Nina 2;2 (4) Here s a mouse go sleep. Nina 2;3 (5) That s the roof go on that home. Nina 2;4 (6) That s the rabbit fall off. Nina 2;4 (7) There s a tape go around right there. Peter 2;0 (8) This is the fire engine go whoo whoo. Peter 2;6

7 Children s spontaneous REL-clauses (1) That s doggy turn around. Nina 1;11 (2) This is my doggy crys. Nina 2;0 (3) That s a turtle swim. Nina 2;2 (4) Here s a mouse go sleep. Nina 2;3 (5) That s the roof go on that home. Nina 2;4 (6) That s the rabbit fall off. Nina 2;4 (7) There s a tape go around right there. Peter 2;0 (8) This is the fire engine go whoo whoo. Peter 2;6

8 Children s spontaneous REL-clauses , ,5 63, ,2 29,5 5,2 >3;0 3;0-4;0 4;0-5;0 Relative clauses with semantically empty main clauses Relative clauses with fully fledged main clauses

9 Diessel and Tomasello 2005 (1) Der Mann, der mich gesehen hat. SUBJ-relative (2) Der Mann, den ich gesehen habe. OBJ-relative (3) Der Mann, dem ich das Buch gegeben habe. IO-relative (4) Der Mann, zu dem ich gegangen bin. ADV-relative (5) Der Mann, dessen Hund mich gebissen hat. GEN-relative (6) The man who met the woman. SUBJ-relative (7) The woman who the man met. OBJ-relative (8) The boy who the girl gave the ball to. IO-relative (9) The girl who the boy played with. ADV-relative (10) The man whose cat caught a mouse. GEN-relative

10 Method This is the farmer who fed the pig in the barn. Subjects: 4-5 year-old English- and German-speaking children

11 t Results Figure 3. Correct responses (Diessel and Tomasello 2005) Correct 4,0 3,0 2,0 English German S intrans. subj. A trans. subj. P direct obj. IO indirect obj. ADV adverbial GEN genitive 1,0 0,0 S A P IO ADV GEN S A P IO ADV GEN P vs. IO p > P vs. ADV p > P vs. IO p > P vs. ADV p < 0.001

12 Error analysis (1) Test item: This is the girl who the boy teased at school this morning. CHILD: This is the girl who teased the boy at school this morning. (2) Test item: Da ist der Mann, den das Mädchen im Stall gesehen hat. CHILD: Da ist der Mann, der das Mädchen im Stall gesehen hat. (3) This is the girl who bor/ Peter borrowed a football from. (4) Da ist der Junge, der/ dem Paul die Mütze weggenommen hat. The conversion errors do not arise from lack of grammatical knowledge. Hypothesis: Subject relatives are easier to activate than other types of relative clauses.

13 Subject relatives One factor that determines the ease of activation is frequency (Bybee 2006; Elman 2004). Proportion of different structural types of relative clauses in the ambient language (Diessel 2004)

14 Subject relatives Hypothesis: Subject relatives are easy to activate because they are similar to ordinary main clauses (Diessel & Tomasello 2005). (1) The man [agent] who opened the door [patient]. SUBJ (2) The cat [patient] the dog [agent] chased around the garden. OBJ (3) The doctor [goal] the patient [agent] went to last night. ADV

15 Object- and adverbial REL the N [who saw NP] the N [who NP saw] the N [who NP gave NP to] the N [who NP played with] the N [[whose N] chased NP] subject direct object indirect object adverbial genitive der Mann, der der Mann, den der Mann, dem der Mann, mit/von dem. der Mann, dessen N subject direct object indirect object adverbial genitive

16 Object- and adverbial REL the N [who saw NP] the N [who NP saw] the N [who NP gave NP to] the N [who NP played with] the N [[whose N] chased NP] subject direct object indirect object adverbial genitive der Mann, der der Mann, den der Mann, dem der Mann, mit/von dem. der Mann, dessen N subject direct object indirect object adverbial genitive

17 Genitive REL (1) This is the man whose dog bit me. Genitive relatives are rare (or even absent) in the ambient language. Indirect object relatives are also rare. Genitive relatives caused more problems than indirect object relatives because they are very different from all other types of relative clauses, whereas indirect object relatives can easily be formed in analogy to subject and direct object relatives.

18 Summary Subject relatives caused few problems because they are frequent and similar to simple sentences. English direct object, indirect object, and adverbial relatives caused basically the same amount of errors because they have the same word order. Indirect object relatives caused relatively few problems because they are similar to direct object relatives. Genitive relatives and German adverbial relatives caused great problems because they are dissimilar from other relative clauses.

19 Summary Why is similarity so important? Similarity is important because relative clauses are grammatical constructions (i.e. form-function pairings) that are related to each other in an associative network like lexical expressions.

20 Network of relative clauses SVO sentences

21 Network of relative clauses SVO sentences

22 Network of relative clauses Subject relatives SVO sentences

23 Network of relative clauses Direct object relatives Subject relatives SVO sentences

24 Network of relative clauses Adverbial relatives Direct object relatives Subject relatives SVO sentences

25 Network of relative clauses Adverbial relatives Indirect object relatives Direct object relatives Subject relatives SVO sentences

26 Network of relative clauses Genitive relatives Adverbial relatives Indirect object relatives Direct object relatives Subject relatives SVO sentences

27 Connectionist simulation Fitz, H. & Chang, F The role of the input in a connectionist model of the accessibility hierarchy in development. Proceedings of the 32nd Boston University Conference on Language Development, Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

28 Conclusion In traditional grammar, linguistic productivity is based on rules that are similar to mathematical equations. But research on the acquisition of inflectional morphology suggests that linguistic productivity is based on associations that are shaped by frequency and similarity. The current study has shown that the approach can be extended to syntax. Grammar consists of a network of constructions that is shaped by the frequency and similarity of its components.

29 Merry Christmas

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