Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 573-596

First online:

Relatives Children Say

  • Cecile McKeeAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, University of Arizona
  • , Dana McDanielAffiliated withUniversity of Southern
  • , Jesse SnedekerAffiliated withUniversity of Pennsylvania

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In an experiment designed to elicit restrictive relatives clauses, 28 children ranging in age from 2:2 to 3:10 provided a corpus of communicatively appropriate relative clauses. In evaluating this corpus, we found that most children produced mostly adult relative clauses most of the time. Detailed study of these utterances uncovered a few error patterns, which we analyzed in light of several considerations (e.g., the overall frequency of an error type, its distribution across children and items, its relation to the construction under study, and the similarity of the error to what children do elsewhere). Only one error pattern, namely some children's production of inappropriate relative pronouns, is argued to reflect a systematic feature of language development. We conclude that children's ability to represent the syntactic structure of the embedded clause is on target very early.