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The influence of referential discourse context on modifier attachment in Dutch

By Timothy Desmet, Constantijn De Baecke and Marc Brysbaert


In an eye-tracking experiment we investigated the influence of referential context on the attachment of a relative clause to two possible hosts (as in “Someone shot the servant of the actress who was on the balcony”). The attachment of the relative clause was disambiguated grammatically at the first word after the onset of the ambiguity in order to investigate immediate effects of discourse. The contexts had been verified in a sentence completion study to make sure that they induced a strong bias toward early or late closure. The results of the reading experiment, however, revealed no significant interaction of referential context with the attachment preference of the relative clause. The only robust and consistent effect we found was a preference for early closure, independent of the preceding context. These data favor accounts positing that referential context does not influence the initial attachment decision, but does play a role in later phases of sentence processing. An important debate in syntactic processing research concerns the way in which sentence parsing is influenced by the surrounding discourse context. Syntax-first theorists claim that only syntactic principles guide the initial phase of analysis and that referential information is ignored durin

Year: 2009
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