Subject-Object Asymmetry in the Production of Relative Clauses in Cantonese

Abstract

In the literature about processing of relative clauses (RCs), subject relatives (SRs) are reported to be easier than object relatives (ORs) in a number of languages, but the status of prenominal ORs in languages where the object follows the verb (SVO) is still partly controversial. This study explores the production of RCs in Cantonese in two elicited production experiments and two corpus studies. In the first elicited experiment, an overwhelming preference for SRs was observed. In two corpus studies where the context and the feature of arguments were uncontrolled, the reverse pattern was observed. In order to reconcile the two datasets, we speculate that what counts in object dependencies is the featural endowment of the subject, as in the intervention hypothesis implemented in Friedmann et al. 2009. A second elicited experiment was run to test this hypothesis. The results suggest that production of RCs in Cantonese displays a subject preference in general and that object dispreference is modulated by featural mismatch.

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