Expectation and Locality Effects in German Verb-final Structures

Roger Levy, Frank Keller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Probabilistic expectations and memory limitations are central factors governing the real-time comprehension of natural language, but how the two factors interact remains poorly understood. One respect in which the two factors have come into theoretical conflict is the documentation of both locality effects, in which more dependents preceding a governing verb increase processing difficulty at the verb, and anti-locality effects, in which more preceding dependents facilitate processing at the verb. However, no controlled study has previously demonstrated both locality and anti-locality effects in the same type of dependency relation within the same language. Additionally, many previous demonstrations of anti-locality effects have been potentially confounded with lexical identity, plausibility, and sentence position. Here, we provide new evidence of both locality and anti-locality effects in the same type of dependency relation in a single language—verb-final constructions in German—while controlling for lexical identity, plausibility, and sentence position. In main clauses, we find clear anti-locality effects, with the presence of a preceding dative argument facilitating processing at the final verb; in subject-extracted relative clauses with identical linear ordering of verbal dependents, we find both anti-locality and locality effects, with processing facilitated when the verb is preceded by a dative argument alone, but hindered when the verb is preceded by both the dative argument and an adjunct. These results indicate that both expectations and memory limitations need to be accounted for in any complete theory of online syntactic comprehension.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-222
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Volume68
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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