talian relative clauses like Il bambino che bacia la mamma ‘the child that kisses the mom’ are ambiguous between a subject reading and an object reading with postverbal subject. However, the latter is scarcely accessible for word order and theory-internal considerations. This study aims at investigat- ing the role of semantic (im)plausibility in processing these ambiguous constructions. Italian children’s (7;01–10;00 years old) and adults’ (21;08–- 31;02 y.o.) comprehension is tested through a picture selection task. The test sentences contain lexical verbs whose interpretation can be modulated by encyclopedic knowledge (e.g., to spoon-feed). In the ambiguous sentence Il bambino che imbocca la mamma ‘the child that spoon-feeds the mom,’ the object reading is more plausible: Moms rather than children are expected agents of the spoon-feeding. Nonetheless, word order and morphosyntactic and prosodic cues prompt the subject interpretation. Results indicate that semantic plausibility cues alone are not robust enough to discard the subject reading. However, adults are sensitive to these cues, which can modulate their comprehension of ambiguous relatives. Conversely, children are unable to exploit encyclopedic knowledge in sentence processing. This can be explained with children’s reluctance to integrate contextual and encyclope- dic semantic cues during processing, and with their limited processing resources, which could constrain their capacity of sentence reanalysis.

Object relatives with postverbal subject in Italian-speaking children and adults: The role of encyclopedic knowledge in detecting sentence ambiguity

Tagliani, Marta
;
Vender, Maria;Melloni, Chiara
2021-01-01

Abstract

talian relative clauses like Il bambino che bacia la mamma ‘the child that kisses the mom’ are ambiguous between a subject reading and an object reading with postverbal subject. However, the latter is scarcely accessible for word order and theory-internal considerations. This study aims at investigat- ing the role of semantic (im)plausibility in processing these ambiguous constructions. Italian children’s (7;01–10;00 years old) and adults’ (21;08–- 31;02 y.o.) comprehension is tested through a picture selection task. The test sentences contain lexical verbs whose interpretation can be modulated by encyclopedic knowledge (e.g., to spoon-feed). In the ambiguous sentence Il bambino che imbocca la mamma ‘the child that spoon-feeds the mom,’ the object reading is more plausible: Moms rather than children are expected agents of the spoon-feeding. Nonetheless, word order and morphosyntactic and prosodic cues prompt the subject interpretation. Results indicate that semantic plausibility cues alone are not robust enough to discard the subject reading. However, adults are sensitive to these cues, which can modulate their comprehension of ambiguous relatives. Conversely, children are unable to exploit encyclopedic knowledge in sentence processing. This can be explained with children’s reluctance to integrate contextual and encyclope- dic semantic cues during processing, and with their limited processing resources, which could constrain their capacity of sentence reanalysis.
relative clauses, language acquisition, sentence processing, sentence ambiguity, encyclopedic knowledge, Italian language
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11562/1044557
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