25 monolingual (L1) children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI), 32 sequential bilingual (L2) children, and 29 L1 controls completed the Test of Active & Passive Sentences-Revised (van der Lely, 1996) and the self-paced listening task with picture verification for actives and passives (Marinis, 2007). These revealed important between-group differences in both tasks. The children with SLI showed difficulties in both actives and passives when they had to reanalyse thematic roles on-line. Their error pattern provided evidence for working memory limitations. The L2 children showed difficulties only in passives both on-line and off-line. We suggest that these relate to the complex syntactic algorithm in passives and reflect an earlier developmental stage due to reduced exposure to the L2. The results are discussed in relation to theories of SLI and can be best accommodated within accounts proposing that difficulties in the comprehension of passives stem from processing limitations.
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