How does complex syntax develop in heritage language children? This study investigates child Turkish heritage speakers’ comprehension and production of relative clauses (RCs) in Turkish and in English. RCs vary on their syntactic functions (subject, object) and show asymmetric patterns of acquisition and processing, which have been explained by linear distance, structural distance and input factors. Thirty-two child Turkish HS (ages 6–15) and 48 monolingual Turkish children (ages 3–15) completed a picture-sentence matching (comprehension) task and a sentence repetition (production) task in Turkish. The Turkish HS were tested on the RC comprehension and production tasks in English as well. The results indicated that the child HS showed (i) better performance in English than in Turkish with increasing age, (ii) better comprehension than production of Turkish RCs, (iii) replacement of complex RCs with simple juxtaposition in Turkish, and (iv) a subject advantage in comprehension. We take these findings to suggest that Turkish RCs do not fully develop in child HS of Turkish in the U.S., although the strength of this explanation must be corroborated by a study of child and adult HS. Overall, the findings are most compatible with the structural distance account and other factors that may affect production.
- child heritage speakers
- heritage language acquisition
- relative clauses