Beyond relative clauses: The development of noun-modifying clause constructions in Cantonese

Jane Lai, Angel Chan, Stephen Matthews

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingChapter in an edited book (as author)Academic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This chapter presents two corpus studies that investigated the developmental trajectory and characteristics of noun-modifying clause constructions (NMCCs) in 78 monolingual Cantonese-speaking children’s naturalistic speech from age 1;7 [years; months] to 5;6. The NMCCs examined include not only conventional relative clause(RC)-type NMCCs where a filler-gap dependency can be conceived, but also gapless NMCCs where no filler-gap dependency can be conceived - a typological characteristic specific to Cantonese and some Asian languages. Results showed that (i) gapless NMCCs emerged simultaneously or even earlier than conventional RC-type NMCCs; (ii) object-RCs (ORCs) were attested earlier than subject RCs (SRCs); (iii) almost all early ORCs were of the classifier type, sharing surface identity with simple SVO transitives; (iv) the earliest subject-RCs deviate from those SRCs typically used as experimental stimuli, but overlap structurally and functionally with the gapless NMCCs attested earlier. The findings are discussed in light of the typological uniqueness of Cantonese from a constructivist perspective to language acquisition.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTypical and atypical language development in cultural and linguistic diversity
EditorsWeifeng Han, Chris Brebner
PublisherRoutledge/Taylor & Francis Group
ISBN (Electronic)9781003251194
ISBN (Print)9781032169675
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2023


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