Discourse Expectations and Reading Processing of Subject and Object Relative Clauses in Persian Language

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Ph.D. Candidate of Linguistics, Allameh Tabataba’i University

2 Associate Professor of Linguistics, Allameh Tabataba’i University


Numerous studies in different languages have shown that, in general, subject relative clauses are easier and faster to process than object relative clauses. However, there are discourse expectations that are specific to object relative clauses and influence their processing. According to Fox and Thompson (1990), object relative clauses have a strong association with a discourse grounding function, while subject relative clauses are associated with other functions, such as introducing new information about modified noun phrases. So, the difficulty in processing object relative clauses could be due to the unexpectedness of encountering new information, and more specifically, to the embedded noun phrase not referring back to the topic of conversation. On this basis, if subject relative clauses occur isolated from the discourse context and their embedded noun phrases are not mentioned previously, no difference will be found in their processing speed. By contrast, when the referent of the embedded noun phrase of object relative clauses is the ongoing topic in the preceding context, their processing speed probably would be faster. The main aim of this research is to investigate the comprehension speed and accuracy of full noun phrase subject and object relative clauses in the presence of a context (a sentence before subject and object relative structures). Researchers investigated the processing speed of different regions of subject and object relative clauses in two conditions, using self-paced reading experiment. In the first condition, the embedded noun phrase of the subject and object relative clauses was not mentioned in the preceding sentence (neutral context), and in the second one, the embedded noun phrase of the subject and object relative clauses was the topic of the preceding sentence (topical context). 40 mono lingual, Persian speaking normal adults participated in this research. The findings indicated that discourse factors would help to ease the processing of object relative clauses, and processing object relative clauses preceded by the topical context is faster than subject relative clauses in a similar context.


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