Incremental processing in head-final child language: online comprehension of relative clauses in Turkish-speaking children and adults

The present study investigates the parsing of pre-nominal relative clauses (RCs) in children for the first time with a real-time methodology that reveals moment-to-moment processing patterns as the sentence unfolds. A self-paced listening experiment with Turkish-speaking children (aged 5-8) and adults showed that both groups display a sign of processing cost both in subject and object RCs at different points through the flow of the utterance when integrating the cues that are uninformative (i.e., ambiguous in function) and that are structurally and probabilistically unexpected. Both groups show a processing facilitation as soon as the morphosyntactic dependencies are completed and parse the unbounded dependencies rapidly using the morphosyntactic cues rather than waiting for the clause-final filler. These findings show that five-year-old children show similar patterns to adults in processing the morphosyntactic cues incrementally and in forming expectations about the rest of the utterance on the basis of the probabilistic model of their language.