Thematic role assignment in the L1 acquisition of Tagalog: use of word order and morphosyntactic markers

Rowena Garcia*, Jens Roeser, Barbara Höhle

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)
    14 Downloads (Pure)


    It is a common finding across languages that young children have problems in understanding patient-initial sentences. We used Tagalog, a verb-initial language with a reliable voice-marking system and highly frequent patient voice constructions, to test the predictions of several accounts that have been proposed to explain this difficulty: the frequency account, the Competition Model, and the incremental processing account. Study 1 presents an analysis of Tagalog child-directed speech, which showed that the dominant argument order is agent-before-patient and that morphosyntactic markers are highly valid cues to thematic role assignment. In Study 2, we used a combined self-paced listening and picture verification task to test how Tagalog-speaking adults and 5- and 7-year-old children process reversible transitive sentences. Results showed that adults performed well in all conditions, while children’s accuracy and listening times for the first noun phrase indicated more difficulty in interpreting patient-initial sentences in the agent voice compared to the patient voice. The patient voice advantage is partly explained by both the frequency account and incremental processing account.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)235-261
    Number of pages27
    JournalLanguage Acquisition
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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