Person Matters: Relative Clauses in the Acquisition of French
Children’s comprehension difficulties with object relative clauses (ORs) seem reduced when the embedded subject is a pronoun, rather than a lexical noun. The intervention locality account explains this facilitation in terms of a mismatch in features between the head of the OR and the intervening pronominal subject, namely the N feature according to some (Friedmann et al. 2009), or finer-grained phi features according to others (Bentea & Durrleman, 2021). We evaluate the predictions of these accounts in an experimental study assessing OR comprehension in French. Fifty-two children between the ages of four and five were tested on a character-selection task investigating whether intervention effects in ORs with a lexically-restricted object are alleviated, or not, with pronominal interveners matching with the object in other features than lexical restriction. We also explored the potential impact of an intervening pronominal mismatching with the object on a feature yet unexplored in French, namely person. Results reveal low performance on ORs with pronominal interveners matching on features (number, gender, person). However, ORs with pronominal interveners mismatching only in person were comprehended significantly better. This suggests that differences in finer-grained features than N explain children’s difficulties with ORs and that person is such a feature.
Keywordsrelative clauses, intervention, pronouns, acquisition, person feature , French
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