Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 8, Issue 5, pp 499–518 | Cite as

Children's comprehension of relative clauses

  • Jill G. de Villiers
  • Helen B. Tager Flusberg
  • Kenji Hakuta
  • Michael Cohen


A review of the literature on children's use of relative clause constructions reveals many contradictory findings. The suggestion is that some studies fail to take into account the two factors of embeddedness (role of complex noun phrase within the sentence) and focus (role of head noun in the relative clause). The experiment reported here attempted to reconcile the disparate findings and extend the range of constructions examined. 114 children between the ages of 3 and 7 served as subjects in a test of comprehension using an act-out procedure of 9 different relative clause sentences that exhaust the possible combination of 3 roles of the complex noun phrase in the sentence and 3 roles that the head noun plays within the relative clause (in each case, subject, driect object, and indirect object). All constructions were understood better with increasing age of the children sex and sentence set were nonsignificant variables. The results reveal a difficulty in ordering of the 9 types of construction that is in keeping with a prediction based on surface structure processing strategies.


Cognitive Psychology Surface Structure Noun Phrase Processing Strategy Relative Clause 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jill G. de Villiers
    • 1
  • Helen B. Tager Flusberg
    • 1
  • Kenji Hakuta
    • 1
  • Michael Cohen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Social RelationsHarvard UniversityCambridge

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