Relative Clauses in Child and Adult Heritage Greek Speakers (GreProc)

Heritage speakers are defined as bilinguals who grew up hearing and possibly speaking an immigrant or minority language in the family or home (see Kondo-Brown, 2006; Silva-Corvalán, 1994). Research on heritage languages has consistently shown that both the production and comprehension of heritage speakers is different from that of native speaker controls, whose language constitutes the baseline of comparison (e.g., Montrul, 2004, 2006; Polinsky, 2006, 2008a, 2008b). Although numerous studies in the last decade have investigated heritage speakers’ grammars, most of them have relied on offline techniques such as corpus analysis, elicited production, and grammaticality judgments. The present study investigates child and adult heritage speakers’ online parsing strategies in real time using a self-paced listening task.

This project explores the processing complexity in a language with flexible word order: Greek. The advantage of using a morphologically rich language with free word order such as Greek (see also Levy et al. 2013, for Russian) is that such a language provides the possibility to examine whether RC processing difficulty stems from structural or morphological complexity, or whether it is a matter of constituent saliency. This is the main question for our studies of monolingual speakers.

For Greek-German heritage speakers, our research focuses on the potential cross-linguistic influence in processing. We focus on one crucial difference between Greek and German relative clauses: Greek has flexible word order in relative clauses whereas German has fixed (verb final) word order. We explore whether the Greek processing of the heritage speakers is influenced by their exposure to the fixed word order pattern in German. To target this potential cross-linguistic influence, our experimental materials manipulate the type of RC (SRC vs. ORC), the RC-internal word order (canonical vs. scrambled), and the introductory word of the RC (case marked relative pronoun vs. complementizer). In order to assess participants’ real time processing, we use an online self-paced listening task implemented in E-Prime 2.0. The current project aims at investigating the on-line processing of Greek SRCs and ORCs in four populations: adult native speakers of Greek, monolingual Greek children, heritage-speaker Greek/German adults, and heritage-speaker Greek/German children. The knowledge of Greek of each heritage participant is assessed through a standardized language proficiency test.

The results of this study will give us insight into the processing of complex structures by native and heritage speakers of a morphologically rich language with free word order (Greek) and assess the possible influence of a language with partially fixed word order (German).


Representative Publications:

Katsika, K., Allen, S.E. (2014). Processing subject and object relative clauses in a flexible word order language: evidence from Greek, in: Kotzoglou, G., K. Nikolou, E. Karantzola, K. Frantzi, I. Galantomos, M. Georgalidou, V. Kourti-Kazoulis, Ch. Papadopoulou & E. Vlachou (Eds.), Selected papers of the 11th International Conference of Greek Linguistics, Rhodes: Department of Mediterranean Studies, University of the Aegean, pp. 715-726.

Katsika, K., Allen, S. The processing of Greek relative clauses in adults and children. 21st Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing (AMLaP 2015), Malta, 3-5 September 2015.