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The Peaceful Co-existence of Input Frequency and Structural Intervention Effects on the Comprehension of Complex Sentences in German-Speaking Children

  • The predictions of two contrasting approaches to the acquisition of transitive relative clauses were tested within the same groups of German-speaking participants aged from 3 to 5 years old. The input frequency approach predicts that object relative clauses with inanimate heads (e.g., the pullover that the man is scratching) are comprehended earlier and more accurately than those with an animate head (e.g., the man that the boy is scratching). In contrast, the structural intervention approach predicts that object relative clauses with two full NP arguments mismatching in number (e.g., the man that the boys are scratching) are comprehended earlier and more accurately than those with number-matching NPs (e.g., the man that the boy is scratching). These approaches were tested in two steps. First, we ran a corpus analysis to ensure that object relative clauses with number-mismatching NPs are not more frequent than object relative clauses with number-matching NPs in child directed speech. Next, the comprehension of these structures wasThe predictions of two contrasting approaches to the acquisition of transitive relative clauses were tested within the same groups of German-speaking participants aged from 3 to 5 years old. The input frequency approach predicts that object relative clauses with inanimate heads (e.g., the pullover that the man is scratching) are comprehended earlier and more accurately than those with an animate head (e.g., the man that the boy is scratching). In contrast, the structural intervention approach predicts that object relative clauses with two full NP arguments mismatching in number (e.g., the man that the boys are scratching) are comprehended earlier and more accurately than those with number-matching NPs (e.g., the man that the boy is scratching). These approaches were tested in two steps. First, we ran a corpus analysis to ensure that object relative clauses with number-mismatching NPs are not more frequent than object relative clauses with number-matching NPs in child directed speech. Next, the comprehension of these structures was tested experimentally in 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds respectively by means of a color naming task. By comparing the predictions of the two approaches within the same participant groups, we were able to uncover that the effects predicted by the input frequency and by the structural intervention approaches co-exist and that they both influence the performance of children on transitive relative clauses, but in a manner that is modulated by age. These results reveal a sensitivity to animacy mismatch already being demonstrated by 3-year-olds and show that animacy is initially deployed more reliably than number to interpret relative clauses correctly. In all age groups, the animacy mismatch appears to explain the performance of children, thus, showing that the comprehension of frequent object relative clauses is enhanced compared to the other conditions. Starting with 4-year-olds but especially in 5-year-olds, the number mismatch supported comprehension—a facilitation that is unlikely to be driven by input frequency. Once children fine-tune their sensitivity to verb agreement information around the age of four, they are also able to deploy number marking to overcome the intervention effects. This study highlights the importance of testing experimentally contrasting theoretical approaches in order to characterize the multifaceted, developmental nature of language acquisition.show moreshow less

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Metadaten
Author:Flavia AdaniORCiD, Maja Stegenwallner-SchützORCiDGND, Talea Niesel
DOI:https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01590
ISSN:1664-1078
Pubmed Id:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=29033863
Parent Title (English):Frontiers in psychology
Publisher:Frontiers Research Foundation
Place of publication:Lausanne
Document Type:Article
Language:English
Date of first Publication:2017/09/29
Year of Completion:2017
Publishing Institution:Universität Potsdam
Release Date:2017/11/16
Tag:German; animacy; input frequency; language acquisition; number; relative clauses; sentence comprehension
Volume:8
First Page:1
Last Page:11
Funder:Universität Potsdam, Publikationsfonds
Grant Number:PA 2017_52
Organizational units:Humanwissenschaftliche Fakultät / Strukturbereich Kognitionswissenschaften
Dewey Decimal Classification:1 Philosophie und Psychologie / 15 Psychologie / 150 Psychologie
Peer Review:Referiert
Grantor:Publikationsfonds der Universität Potsdam
Publication Way:Open Access
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung, 4.0 International
Notes extern:Zweitveröffentlichung in der Schriftenreihe Postprints der Universität Potsdam : Humanwissenschaftliche Reihe ; 352