The role of working memory and contextual constraints in children's processing of relative clauses

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TitleThe role of working memory and contextual constraints in children's processing of relative clauses
Publication TypeJournal Article
AbstractAn auditory sentence comprehension task investigated the extent to which the integration of contextual and structural cues was mediated by verbal memory span with 32 English-speaking six- to eight-year-old children. Spoken relative clause sentences were accompanied by visual context pictures which fully (depicting the actions described within the relative clause) or partially (depicting several referents) met the pragmatic assumptions of relativization. Comprehension of the main and relative clauses of centre-embedded and right-branching structures was compared for each context. Pragmatically appropriate contexts exerted a positive effect on relative clause comprehension, but children with higher memory spans demonstrated a further benefit for main clauses. Comprehension for centre-embedded main clauses was found to be very poor, independently of either context or memory span. The results suggest that children have access to adult-like linguistic processing mechanisms, and that sensitivity to extralinguistic cues is evident in young children and develops as cognitive capacity increases. Adapted from the source document.
AuthorsWeighall, A. R., and Altmann G. T. M.
Year of Publication2011
PublicationJournal of Child Language
ISSN0305-0009 (print), 1469-7602 (electronic)
Publisher DOI
NotesCambridge University Press, responsible for the promotion of Journal of Child Language, have allowed *full text access* to a collection of papers, which can only be accessed through this web link: until 30th June 2013.
Keywords (MeSH)child, cognition, comprehension, language development, memory, semantics, speech perception, verbal learning