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Merge and binding in child relative clauses: the case of Irish


This study investigates whether children learning Irish as a first language show a preference for one or other of the two mechanisms for relative clause formation used in the adult language (movement and binding), and what details of the grammar of Irish relative clauses children are sensitive to. Our results suggest that Irish-speaking children have acquired both a movement and a binding mechanism for relativization by age five, and that they additionally have a non-movement mechanism for forming subject relatives, one that is not licensed in adult Irish. The data is discussed in the context of other studies of relativization in child language, cross-linguistic evidence and the computation of binding structures in language production and processing.

Corresponding author
Department of Language and Linguistic Science, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, U.K. E-mail:
Dublin City University, Dublin 9, Ireland. E-mail:
Centre for Language and Communication Studies, Trinity, College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland. E-mail:
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This work was supported by Social Science and Research Council of Canada grant # 410-98-0511 to Helen Goodluck and Eithne Guilfoyle; additional financial support for the purchase of recording equipment was provided by Bord na Gaeilge. The work was begun while Goodluck was at the University of Ottawa and Guilfoyle at the University of Calgary. For helpful comments we are grateful to two anonymous JL referees and to audiences at the Celtic Linguistics Conference, University College Dublin, 2001; the Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, 2003; and the Canadian Linguistics Association Annual Meeting, Winnipeg, 2004. We are indebted to Diarmuid Ó Sé for his advice on the dialect. Many thanks to Sheila Scott for her transcription of the data, to our child and adult subjects for taking part, and to the teachers and parents who facilitated access to the children. Ewa Jaworska and a JL proofreader provided expert and patient editorial help.
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Journal of Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0022-2267
  • EISSN: 1469-7742
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-linguistics
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