Ergative case in the production and comprehension of relative clauses in Basque


Abstract  ERGATIVE CASE IN THE PRODUCTION AND COMPREHENSION OF RELATIVE CLAUSES IN BASQUE The investigation of the acquisition of relative clauses (RCs) has revealed that subject relatives (SRs) are easier to process and acquired earlier than object relatives (ORs) in SVO nominative languages. Different factors seem to ease the difficulty of processing and acquiring ORs: animacy, distance between filler and gap, word order etc. However, things are not so clear in SOV languages. It has been shown that in Basque, unlike other languages, ORs are processed with greater ease by adults (Carreiras et al., 2010) and comprehended with greater accuracy by children (Gutierrez Mangado, 2011). In this paper we present data from three groups of L1 Basque children (aged 3, 4 and 6) and a group of young adults collected by means of a comprehension and a production task. The results show that while ORs are comprehended with greater accuracy, the same subjects produce SRs with greater accuracy than ORs. We suggest that this asymmetry in the production and comprehension of RCs is due to the ergative case marking on subjects in ORs. In the comprehension task the ergative marking born by the subject in ORs makes it easier to identify the role of the argument in the RC, leading to greater accuracy in the comprehension of ORs. In production however, the facilitating effect of the ergative case marker disappears: the most common error in the production task is the lack of ergative case in ORs, which morphologically corresponds to a SR. We suggest that in an ergative language like Basque, ergative case marking is crucial for comprehending and producing RCs, aiding in establishing the role of the argument inside the RC as a subject in ORs. In production no such facilitating effect is observed presumably because in production the role of the argument inside the RC is well established.

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