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Relative clauses are barriers to wh-movement for young children

  • Jill De Villiers (a1) and Thomas Roeper (a2)

Abstract

Two studies are described which investigate preschool children's sensitivity to relative clauses as barriers to the movement of wh-questions. The children were presented with short stories followed by questions in which the wh-word had two possible sites of interpretation, the ungrammatical option being inside a relative clause. A cross-sectional study with 23 children aged 3;1 to 6;1, and a longitudinal study over the course of one year with 12 children aged 3;1 to 4;1 at the start, found young children refused to extract wh-questions from the ungrammatical site inside a relative clause. This confirms other findings that children's early grammars are sensitive to universal constraints on movement. In addition, the children differentiated between wh-complements and relative clauses in their tendency to mistakenly answer the medial wh-complementizer but not the wh-relative pronoun. Explanations for the latter are framed in terms of children's initial assumptions about the attachment of complements.

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Corresponding author

[*] Psychology Department, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063, USA.

References

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Relative clauses are barriers to wh-movement for young children

  • Jill De Villiers (a1) and Thomas Roeper (a2)

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