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The impact of number mismatch and passives on the real-time processing of relative clauses*



Language processing plays a crucial role in language development, providing the ability to assign structural representations to input strings (e.g., Fodor, 1998). In this paper we aim at contributing to the study of children's processing routines, examining the operations underlying the auditory processing of relative clauses in children compared to adults. English-speaking children (6;0–8;11) and adults participated in the study, which employed a self-paced listening task with a final comprehension question. The aim was to determine (i) the role of number agreement in object relative clauses in which the subject and object NPs differ in terms of number properties, and (ii) the role of verb morphology (active vs. passive) in subject relative clauses. Even though children's off-line accuracy was not always comparable to that of adults, analyses of reaction times results support the view that children have the same structural processing reflexes observed in adults.


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Address for correspondence: Pennsylvania State University – Psychology, 4E Thomas Building, State College, Pennsylvania 16801, USA. e-mail:


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This research was supported by the Short Term Scientific Mission scholarship, awarded to the first author by COST Action IS0804 ‘Language impairment in a multilingual society’, and by the 2011 Marica De Vincenzi postdoctoral fellowship, awarded to the first author by the Marica De Vincenzi Foundation Onlus. We thank Adriana Belletti, Giuliano Bocci, Vicky Chondrogianni, Maria Teresa Guasti and Luigi Rizzi for helpful comments. Thanks to the COST Action IS0804, ‘Language impairment in a multilingual society’ and the Marica De Vincenzi Foundation Onlus, who made the data collection possible. All errors are ours.



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The impact of number mismatch and passives on the real-time processing of relative clauses*



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