The role of parallel function in the acquisition of relative clauses in English

Amy Sheldon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

267 Scopus citations


Children were tested for their comprehension of four types of sentences with relative clauses, in order to determine the role of the following factors in comprehension: (a) position of the embedded clause, (b) word order in the embedded clause, (c) grammatical functions of the identical noun phrases. The results indicate that if the identical noun phrases have the same function in their respective clauses the sentence is significantly easier to understand. The nonsignificant effects of the position of the embedded clause and of the word order in the relative clause disconfirm a putative universal of language acquisition, which has recently been proposed by Slobin. The Parallel Function Hypothesis is proposed to account for our findings, and the implications that it has for the grammar of adult English are considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-281
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1974

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Although subordination is a basic, universal to short term memory limitations. As Bar-linguistic process, very little is known about HilM et al. (1967) have pointed out, an the acquisition of relative clauses, or about the internal clause "creates a dependence to the acquisition of complex sentences in general. left and to the right of the nested element. It is One aspect of sentences with relative clauses is natural to assume that this dependence that the relative clause can interrupt the main creates a load on memory and concentration" clause. In discussions of how adult speakers (p. 39). Likewise, Miller (1962) has claimed: process relative clauses (for example, Chore-"Selfembedding by its very nature places sky, 1965; Miller, 1962; Bar-Hillel, Kasher, & heavier demands on the temporary storage Shamir, 1967), it has frequently been said that capacity of any device that attempts to cope sentences with self-embedded relative clauses with it--far heavier than do either left recursive are harder to process than sentences with or right recursive constructions" (p. 755). right branching relative clauses, presumably If self-embedding is difficult for adults, then because they contain an interruption of the it would be natural to expect that this property main clause. The difficulty in processing of linguistic structure would be difficult for the self-embedded sentences has been attributed language learner, since children's linguistic abilities depend greatly on their short term 1 This research, which is part of the author's doc-memory, which is more limited than the toral dissertation, was supported by a grant from adult's. the Graduate School of the University of Texas at SIobin (1971) has cited evidence from studies

Copyright 2014 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of parallel function in the acquisition of relative clauses in English'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this