Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-v2qlk Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-09-28T11:51:53.069Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Comprehension asymmetries in language acquisition: a test for Relativized Minimality*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 August 2014

Department of Linguistics, School of Philology, University of Athens
Department of Linguistics, School of Philology, University of Athens
Department of Linguistics, School of Philology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Address for correspondence: Spyridoula Varlokosta, Department of Linguistics, School of Philology, University of Athens, Panepistimioupoli Zografou, 15784 Athens, Greece. tel: +30 2107277642; fax: +30 2107277855; e-mail:


Cross-linguistic studies have shown that typically developing children have difficulties comprehending non-canonical structures. These findings have been interpreted within the Relativized Minimality (RM) approach, according to which local relations cannot be established between two terms of a dependency if an intervening element possesses similar morphosyntactic features. In an extension of RM, Friedmann, Belletti, and Rizzi (2009) suggested that lexical NP restriction is the source of minimality effects in non-canonical sentences. The present study aimed at investigating whether the predictions of their account can be confirmed in Greek. Our results indicate that although lexical NP restriction is a crucial factor in generating minimality effects, it is not always sufficient to account for the comprehension difficulties that young children face with non-canonical sentences, since the internal structure (i.e. the feature specification) of the moved element and of the intervener affects their performance, as well.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



We would like to thank Elena Anagnostopoulou, Nino Grillo, and Napoleon Katsos for discussions we had on some theoretical issues examined in the paper, as well as Anastasia Giannakidou and Winnie Lechner for their comments on a preliminary draft of the paper. Also, we are grateful to three anonymous reviewers and to the Associate Editor of the Journal of Child Language for their constructive comments, which helped us improve the quality of the paper. Last, we thank the children and the teachers of the kindergartens for their willingness to participate in our study. Permission to assess the children at the kindergartens was granted to the first author by the Hellenic Ministry of Education.



Adani, F., van der Lely, H. K. J., Forgiarini, M. & Guasti, M. T. (2010). Grammatical feature dissimilarities make relative clauses easier: a comprehension study with Italian children. Lingua 120, 2148–66.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Alexiadou, A. & Varlokosta, S. (2007). On the structure and matching effects of free relatives in Greek. In Alexiadou, A. (ed.), Studies in the morpho-syntax of Greek, 222–48. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
Alexopoulou, Th. & Keller, F. (2014). What vs. who and which: kind-denoting fillers and the complexity of whether-islands. In Hornstein, N. & Sprouse, J. (eds), Experimental syntax and island effects, 310–40. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Anagnostopoulou, E. (1994). Clitic dependencies in Modern Greek. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Salzburg.Google Scholar
Arosio, F., Guasti, M. T. & Stucchi, N. (2011). Disambiguating information and memory resources in children's processing of Italian relative clauses. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 40, 137–54.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Avrutin, S. (2000). Comprehension of wh-questions by children and Broca's aphasic patients. In Grodzinsky, Y., Shapiro, L. P. & Swinney, D. A. (eds), Language and the brain: representation and processing, 295312. San Diego: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bates, E., Devescovi, A. & D'Amico, S. (1999). Processing complex sentences: a cross-linguistic study. Language and Cognitive Processes 14, 69123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Belletti, A., Friedmann, N., Brunato, D. & Rizzi, L. (2012). Does gender make a difference? Comparing the effect of gender on children's comprehension of relative clauses in Hebrew and Italian. Lingua 122, 1053–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brown, H. (1972). Children's comprehension of relativized English sentences. Child Development 42, 1923–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Caramazza, A. & Zurif, E. (1976). Dissociation of algorithmic and heuristic processes in language comprehension: evidence from aphasia. Brain and Language 3, 572–82.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Chomsky, N. (2001). Derivation by phase. In Kenstowicz, M. (ed.), Ken Hale: a life in language, 152. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Contemori, C. & Belletti, A. (2013). Relatives and passive object relatives in Italian-speaking children and adults: intervention in production and comprehension. Applied Psycholinguistics 133.Google Scholar
Contemori, C. & Garraffa, M. (2010). Comparison of modalities in SLI: a study on the comprehension and production of non-canonical sentences. Lingua 120, 1940–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Corrêa, L. M. S. (1995). An alternative assessment of children's comprehension of relative clauses. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 24, 183203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Costa, J., Grillo, N. & Lobo, M. (2012). Minimality beyond lexical restrictions: processing and acquisition of free wh-dependencies in European Portuguese. Revue Roumaine de Linguistique LVII(2), 143–60.Google Scholar
Deevy, P. & Leonard, L. B. (2004). The comprehension of wh-questions in children with specific language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research 47, 802–15.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
De Vincenzi, M. (1991). Syntactic parsing strategies in Italian. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
De Vincenzi, M., Arduino, L. S., Ciccarelli, L. & Job, R. (1999). Parsing strategies in children's comprehension of interrogative sentences. In Bagnara, S. (ed.), Proceedings of ECCS ‘99 – European Conference on Cognitive Science, 301–8. Rome: Istituto di Psicologia del CNR.Google Scholar
Frazier, L. & Flores d'Arcais, G. B. (1989). Filler driven parsing: a study of gap filling in Dutch. Journal of Memory & Language 28, 331–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Friedmann, N., Belletti, A. & Rizzi, L. (2009). Relativized relatives: types of intervention in the acquisition of A-bar dependencies. Lingua 119, 6788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Friedmann, N. & Costa, J. (2010). The child heard a coordinated sentence and wondered: on children's difficulty in understanding coordination and relative clauses with crossing dependencies. Lingua 120(6), 1502–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Friedmann, N. & Novogrodsky, R. (2004). The acquisition of relative clause comprehension in Hebrew: a study of SLI and normal development. Journal of Child Language 31, 661–81.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Friedmann, N. & Novogrodsky, R. (2011). Which questions are most difficult to understand? The comprehension of wh-questions in three subtypes of SLI. Lingua 121, 367–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Garraffa, M. & Grillo, N. (2008). Canonicity effects as a grammatical phenomenon. Journal of Neurolinguistics 21, 177–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Giannakidou, A., Papadopoulou, D. & Stavrou, M. (2012). Epistemic judgment, anti-specificity marking, and scope differentiation: an experimental study of two Greek indefinites. Proceedings of the Chicago Linguistic Society (CLS) 2011.Google Scholar
Giannakidou, A. & Quer, J. (2013). Exhaustive and non-exhaustive variation with free choice and referential vagueness: evidence from Greek, Catalan, and Spanish. Lingua 176, 120–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grillo, N. (2005). Minimality effects in agrammatic comprehension. In Blaho, S., Schoorlemmer, E. & Vicente, L. (eds), Proceedings of ConSOLE XIII, 107–20. Online: <>.Google Scholar
Grillo, N. (2008). Generalized Minimality. Doctoral dissertation, Utrecht, Institute of Linguistics OTS.Google Scholar
Grillo, N. (2009). Generalized minimality: feature impoverishment and comprehension deficits in agrammatism. Lingua 119, 1426–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grodzinsky, Y. (1989). Agrammatic comprehension of relative clauses. Brain and Language 37, 480–99.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gordon, P. C., Hendrick, R. & Johnson, M. (2001). Memory interference during language processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 27, 1411–23.Google ScholarPubMed
Gordon, P., Hendrick, R. & Johnson, M. (2004). Effects of noun phrase type on sentence complexity. Journal of Memory and Language 51, 97114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Guasti, M. T., Branchini, C. & Arosio, F. (2012). Interference in the production of Italian subject and object wh-questions. Applied Psycholinguistics 33, 185223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Guasti, M. T., Branchini, C., Arosio, F. & Vernice, M. (2012). A developmental study of subject and object relative clauses in Italian. Revue Roumaine de Linguistique 78(2), 105–16.Google Scholar
Hanlon, C. (1988). The emergence of set-relational quantifiers in early childhood. In Kessel, F. S. (ed.), The development of language and language researchers: essays in honor of Roger Brown, 6578. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Harley, H. B. (1995). Subjects, events and licensing. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, MIT.Google Scholar
Kidd, E. & Bavin, E. L. (2002). English-speaking children's understanding of relative clauses: evidence for general-cognitive and language-specific constraints on development. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 31, 599617.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kotzoglou, G. (2006). Subject-verb inversion in Greek: implications for head movement and typology. Journal of Universal Language 7, 91137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Marantz, A. (1991). Case and licensing. In ESCOL -91: Proceedings of the 8th Eastern State Conference on Linguistics, 234–53. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University.Google Scholar
Marinis, T. & van der Lely, H. (2007). On-line processing of wh-questions in children with G-SLI and typically developing children. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders 42(5), 557–82.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Nerantzini, M., Varlokosta, S., Papadopoulou, D. & Bastiaanse, R. (2014). Wh-questions and relative clauses in Greek aphasia: evidence from comprehension and production. Aphasiology 28(4), 490514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Neuhaus, E. & Penke, M. (2008). Production and comprehension of wh-questions in German Broca's aphasia. Journal of Neurolinguistics 21(2), 150–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Noveck, I. (2001). When children are more logical than adults: experimental investigations of scalar implicature. Cognition 78, 165–88.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Papafragou, A. & Musolino, J. (2003). Scalar implicatures: experiments at the semantics/pragmatics interface. Cognition 86, 253–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Philippaki-Warburton, I. & Stavrou, M. (1986). Free relatives in Modern Greek. Studies in Greek Linguistics 7, 117–34.Google Scholar
Pouscoulous, N., Noveck, I., Politzer, G. & Bastide, A. (2007). A developmental investigation of processing costs in implicature production. Language Acquisition 14, 347–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rizzi, L. (1990). Relatived Minimality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Rizzi, L. (2004). Locality and the left periphery. In Belletti, A. (ed.), Structure and beyond, 223–51. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Shlonsky, U. (1997). Clause structure and word order in Hebrew and Arabic. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Starke, M. (2001). Move dissolves into Merge: a theory of locality. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Geneva.Google Scholar
Stavrakaki, S. (2001a). Specific Language Impairment in Greek: aspects of syntactic production and comprehension. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.Google Scholar
Stavrakaki, S. (2001b). Comprehension of reversible relative clauses in specifically language impaired and normally developing Greek children. Brain and Language 77, 419–31.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Stromswold, K. (1995). The acquisition of subject and object wh-questions. Language Acquisition 4, 548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tsimpli, I. M. (1995). Focusing in Modern Greek. In Kiss, K. E. (ed.), Discourse configurational languages (Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax), 176206. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Tyack, D. & Ingram, D. (1977). Children's production and comprehension of questions. Journal of Child Language 4, 211–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Veloudis, I. (1982). Negation in Modern Greek. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Reading.Google Scholar
Wilhelm, A. & Hanna, K. (1992). On the acquisition of wh-questions. Calgary Working Papers in Linguistics 15, 8998.Google Scholar