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How do language-specific characteristics affect the acquisition of different relative clause types? Evidence from Finnish*

  • MINNA KIRJAVAINEN (a1) (a2), EVAN KIDD (a3) (a4) and ELENA LIEVEN (a1)


We report three studies (one corpus, two experimental) that investigated the acquisition of relative clauses (RCs) in Finnish-speaking children. Study 1 found that Finnish children's naturalistic exposure to RCs predominantly consists of non-subject relatives (i.e. oblique, object) which typically have inanimate head nouns. Study 2 tested children's comprehension of subject, object, and two types of oblique relatives. No difference was found in the children's performance on different structures, including a lack of previously widely reported asymmetry between subject and object relatives. However, children's comprehension was modulated by animacy of the head referent. Study 3 tested children's production of the same RC structures using sentence repetition. Again we found no subject–object asymmetry. The pattern of results suggested that distributional frequency patterns and the relative complexity of the relativizer contribute to the difficulty associated with particular RC structures.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Minna Kirjavainen, Language Education Institute, Foreign Languages Department, Osaka Gakuin University, 2-36-1 Kishibe-minami, Suita-Shi, Osaka 564-8511, Japan. e-mail:


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We would like to thank the nursery staff and children in Kotka, Finland, for their participation in the study, and the corpus child and her family for the data collection they conducted. We would also like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. The study was funded by a post-doctoral research grant from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology to the first author.



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How do language-specific characteristics affect the acquisition of different relative clause types? Evidence from Finnish*

  • MINNA KIRJAVAINEN (a1) (a2), EVAN KIDD (a3) (a4) and ELENA LIEVEN (a1)


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