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The role of animacy in children’s interpretation of relative clauses in English: Evidence from sentence-picture matching and eye movements

MacDonald, R, Brandt, S, Theakston, A, Lieven, E and Serratrice, L The role of animacy in children’s interpretation of relative clauses in English: Evidence from sentence-picture matching and eye movements. Cognitive Science. ISSN 0364-0213 (Accepted)

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Subject relative clauses (SRCs) are typically processed more easily than object relative clauses (ORCs), but this difference is diminished by an inanimate head-noun in semantically non-reversible ORCs (“The book that the boy is reading”). In two eye-tracking experiments we investigated the influence of animacy on online processing of semantically reversible SRCs and ORCs using lexically inanimate items that were perceptually animate due to motion (e.g., “Where is the tractor that the cow is chasing”). In Experiment 1, 48 children (aged 4;5–6;4) and 32 adults listened to sentences that varied in the lexical animacy of the NP1 head-noun (Animate/Inanimate) and relative clause (RC) type (SRC/ORC) with an animate NP2 , while viewing two images depicting opposite actions. As expected, inanimate head-nouns facilitated the correct interpretation of ORCs in children, however online data revealed children were more likely to anticipate a SRC as the RC unfolded when an inanimate head-noun was used, suggesting processing was sensitive to perceptual animacy. In Experiment 2, we repeated our design with inanimate (rather than animate) NP2s (e.g., “where is the tractor that the car is following”) to investigate whether our online findings were due to increased visual surprisal at an inanimate as agent, or to similarity-based interference. We again found greater anticipation for an SRC in the inanimate condition, supporting our surprisal hypothesis. Across the experiments, offline measures show that lexical animacy influenced children’s interpretation of ORCs, while online measures reveal that as RCs unfolded, children were sensitive to the perceptual animacy of lexically inanimate NPs, which was not reflected in the offline data.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 0801 Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing, 1701 Psychology, 1702 Cognitive Sciences
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
L Education > L Education (General)
Divisions: Psychology (new Sep 2019)
Publisher: Wiley
Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2020 10:00
Last Modified: 18 Jun 2020 10:00
URI: http://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/13117

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