Dr. Hannah Sarvasy (PhD 2015, James Cook) holds an Australian Research Council DECRA fellowship at the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University. Formerly, she taught at UCLA and served as a post-doc at the Australian National University. Dr. Sarvasy has worked on the grammar, child language acquisition, and psycholinguistics of the Nungon language of Papua New Guinea since 2011. She has also conducted fieldwork on Kim and Bom of Sierra Leone and Tachelhit in the Atlas Mountains.
Beyond the Two-Clause Sentence: Acquisition and Processing of Clause Chains
Clause chains are a special type of complex sentence, found in hundreds of languages outside Western Europe, in which clauses are dependent but not embedded, and dozens of clauses can be combined into a single morphologically-indicated syntactic unit. Clause chains in some languages contain a further special feature: switch-reference marking, in which speakers must announce in advance whether the subject of the following clause will differ from that of the current clause. A comprehensive typological study of clause chains across languages is underway; I report a few known parameters of variation.
Comparison of child clause chain productions in six languages (Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Ku Waru, Nungon, and Pitjantjatjara) yields a major finding for child language research: children seem to universally go through a two-clause production phase first. These studies also have ramifications for typology more broadly, however: i) children learning at least one clause chaining language, Nungon (Papuan), have special distributions of complex sentence types, and ii) production of switch-reference marking depends on the distribution in the ambient language, which varies greatly across languages.
Psycholinguistic work has not targeted clause chains, but they would seem specially suited to exploration of long-distance associations, working memory, and planning scope. I show preliminary results from eye-tracking and EEG studies of switch-reference marking in Nungon clause chains.