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Given–new/new–given? Children's sensitivity to the ordering of information in complex sentences

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 July 2013

University of Manchester
University of Manchester
University of Manchester and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Anna L. Theakston, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK. E-mail:


English and many other languages allow flexible ordering of main and subordinate clauses in complex sentences. Processing, discourse-pragmatics, and semantics have an impact on the ordering of information. Three-year-olds, 5-year-olds, and adults heard complex sentences containing main and subordinate clauses with differing informational status. Using an act-out method, we analyzed participants’ sensitivity to the ordering of new/given information and its interaction with clause order. All age groups changed the order of information to given–new when exposed to a new–given structure, whereas only adults changed the clause order to subordinate–main when exposed to the reverse. We suggest that children are sensitive to information structure but not clause order in complex sentences. The results are discussed in the context of possible limited processing capacities or understanding of clause order function in complex sentences.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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