We report on an eye-tracking study that investigated four-year-old Cantonese-speaking children's online processing of subject and object relative clauses (RCs). Children's eye-movements were recorded as they listened to RC structures identifying a unique referent (e.g. Can you pick up the horse that pushed the pig?). Two RC types, classifier (CL) and ge3 RCs, were tested in a between-participants design. The two RC types differ in their syntactic analyses and frequency of occurrence, providing an important point of comparison for theories of RC acquisition and processing. A permutation analysis showed that the two structures were processed differently: CL RCs showed a significant object-over-subject advantage, whereas ge3 RCs showed the opposite effect. This study shows that children can have different preferences even for two very similar RC structures within the same language, suggesting that syntactic processing preferences are shaped by the unique features of particular constructions both within and across different linguistic typologies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Language and Linguistics
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Linguistics and Language