We investigated whether Tagalog-speaking children incrementally interpret the first noun as the agent, even if verbal and nominal markers for assigning thematic roles are given early in Tagalog sentences. We asked five- and seven-year-old children and adult controls to select which of two pictures of reversible actions matched the sentence they heard, while their looks to the pictures were tracked. Accuracy and eye-tracking data showed that agent-initial sentences were easier to comprehend than patient-initial sentences, but the effect of word order was modulated by voice. Moreover, our eye-tracking data provided evidence that, by the first noun phrase, seven-year-old children looked more to the target in the agent-initial compared to the patient-initial conditions, but this word order advantage was no longer observed by the second noun phrase. The findings support language processing and acquisition models which emphasize the role of frequency in developing heuristic strategies (e.g., Chang, Dell, & Bock, 2006).
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- Tagalog acquisition
- sentence comprehension
- word order
- thematic role assignment