# The filler-gap hypothesis and the acquisition of German relative clauses Holger Diessel University of Jena

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The filler-gap hypothesis and the acquisition of German relative clauses Holger Diessel University of Jena holger.diessel@uni-jena.de http://www.holger-diessel.de/

The filler-gap hypothesis (1)The glass [that __ fell off the table].SUBJ (2)The glass [that Peter broke __ ].OBJ

The filler-gap hypothesis Relative clauses including a short distance between filler and gap cause fewer problems in language acquisition than relative clauses including a long distance between filler and gap.

Repetition experiments English study: 21 4-year olds from Manchester, England German study: 24 4-year olds from Leipzig, Germany

Stimuli The boy who __ played in the garden yesterday. SUBJ (intr.) The man who __ saw Peter on the bus this morning. SUBJ (tr.) The girl who the boy teased __ at school yesterday. DO The girl who Peter played with __ in the garden. OBL The girl who Peter borrowed a football from __. IO The man whose horse Peter heard on the farm. GEN

Results SUBJ (intrans.) vs. SUBJ (trans.) p =.001 SUBJ (trans.) vs. DO p =. 007 DO vs. IO p =.173 DO vs. OBL p =.169 SUBJ (intrans.) vs. SUBJ (trans.) p =.001 SUBJ (trans.) vs. DO p =. 006 DO vs. IO p =.061 IO vs. OBL p =.001 EnglishGerman

English study The filler-gap hypothesis is consistent with the fact that SUBJ-relatives caused fewer errors than other relative clauses, but it does not explain: Why GEN-relatives were almost always incorrect. Why DO-, IO- and OBL-relatives were not significantly different. Why intransitive SUBJ-relatives caused more errors than transitive SUBJ-relatives.

German study Das ist der Mann, der mich gesehen hat. Das ist der Mann, den ich gesehen habe. Das ist der Mann, dem ich das Buch gegeben habe. Das ist der Mann, mit dem ich gesprochen habe. Das ist der Mann, dessen Hund mich gebissen hat. Nominative Accusative Dative Oblique Genitive The relative pronoun provides all the information necessary to determine the relativized syntactic role at the beginning of the relative clause. Thus, the parser does not have to wait for the gap to integrate the filler into the relative clause.

Interim summay If the varying distance between filler and gap played any role in the experiments, the effect was limited to the English study and must have been relatively small.

Alternative hypothesis The acquisition of relative clauses is determined by multiple factors affecting different types of relative clauses.

SUBJ-relatives DO-, IO-, and OBL-relatives were often converted to SUBJ-relatives. English TEST ITEM:This is the girl who the boy teased at school. CHILD: This is the girl who teased … the boy … at school. German TEST ITEM:Da ist der Mann, den das Mädchen im Stall gesehen hat. CHILD:Da ist der Mann, der das Mädchen im Stall gesehen hat.

SUBJ-relatives However, children were not consistent in making this type of error. Moreover, they often repaired their conversion errors before they reached the end of the sentence: (1)This is the girl who bor/ Peter borrowed a football from. (2)Da ist der Junge, der/ dem Paul … die Mütze weggenommen hat.

Hypothesis The conversion errors are due to the fact that SUBJ- relatives are more easily activated than other types of relative clauses.

Frequency and ease of activation The more frequently a grammatical construction occurs, the more deeply entrenched it is in mental grammar, and the easier it is to activate in language use.

Input frequency (Diessel 2004)

SUBJ-relatives and simple sentences PRO is AGENT rel VERB PATIENT.SUBJ AGENT VERB PATIENT.Simple clause Childrens good performance on subject relatives can be explained in terms of the similarity between subject relatives and simple sentences. PRO is PATIENT rel AGENT VERB.DO, IO, OBL

Intransitive vs. transitive SUBJ-relatives Transitive SUBJ-relatives caused more problems than intransitive SUBJ-relatives because they are conceptually more complex.

English DO-, IO- and OBL-relatives NP [V …]SUBJ (intransitive) NP [V …]SUBJ (transitive) NP [NP V …]DO NP [NP V …]IO NP [NP V …]OBL NP [[GEN N] V …]GEN

German DO-, IO- and OBL-relatives NP [der …]SUBJ (intransitive) NP [der …]SUBJ (transitive) NP [den …]DO NP [dem …]IO NP [P den …]OBL NP [[dessen N] …]GEN

GEN- and IO-relatives Both GEN- and IO-relatives are basically absent from the input. IO-relatives caused fewer errors than GEN-relatives because they are similar to direct DO-relatives.

Summary The acquisition of relative clauses is determined by multiple factors. One of these factors may be the varying distance between filler and gap; but this factor is restricted to the English study. The German data require a different explanation, and even the English data cannot be explained without other factors.

Summary Important is the similarity between constructions: SUBJ-relatives caused few problems because they are similar to simple sentences. English DO, IO, and OBL-relatives caused basically the same amount of problems because they have the same word order. IO-relatives caused relatively few problems because they are similar to DO-relatives. GEN-relatives and German OBL-relatives caused great problems because they are structurally and conceptually dissimilar to other relative clauses.

Why does similarity matter? Relative clauses are constructions (i.e. form-function pairings) that are related to each other in a network like lexical expressions. Children acquire this network in a piecemeal, bottom-up fashion by relating new relative clause constructions to constructions they already know.

A network of relative constructions Simple Sentences SUBJ-relatives …-relatives GEN-relatives

Thank you References Diessel, Holger. 2004. The Acquisition of Complex Sentences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Diessel, Holger & Tomasello, Michael. (to appear). A new look at the acquisition of relative clauses. http://www.holger-diessel.de/

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