Immediate memory for words from main and subordinate clauses at different age levels

David J. Townsend, David Ottaviano, Thomas G. Bever

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


A probe-latency task was used to assess accessibility to the words from the first and second clauses of four types of sentences. The sentences contained either independent clauses or main and subordinate clauses. The subjects were 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children, and adults. On sentences with no main-subordinate distinction, word recognition latencies were shorter for second clauses for all groups except 4-year-olds. On sentences with main and subordinate clauses systematically varied over position in the sentence, however, latencies were most often shorter for subordinate clauses, even when they occurred at the beginning of the sentence. The results indicate that a clause is not simply represented in abstract form rather than verbatim form once the complete clause has been heard, but instead the structural role of the clause, as well as other factors, influences accessibility to verbatim form. It is proposed that listeners frequently interpret an asserted main clause more readily than a subordinate clause. This comprehension strategy appears in different forms at different stages of development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-101
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of psycholinguistic research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1979

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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