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Journal Article

The influence of animacy on relative clause processing


Vonk,  Wietske
Language Production Group Levelt, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Other Research, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Mak, W. M., Vonk, W., & Schriefers, H. (2002). The influence of animacy on relative clause processing. Journal of Memory and Language, 47(1), 50-68. doi:10.1006/jmla.2001.2837.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-199D-A
In previous research it has been shown that subject relative clauses are easier to process than object relative clauses. Several theories have been proposed that explain the difference on the basis of different theoretical perspectives. However, previous research tested relative clauses only with animate protagonists. In a corpus study of Dutch and German newspaper texts, we show that animacy is an important determinant of the distribution of subject and object relative clauses. In two experiments in Dutch, in which the animacy of the object of the relative clause is varied, no difference in reading time is obtained between subject and object relative clauses when the object is inanimate. The experiments show that animacy influences the processing difficulty of relative clauses. These results can only be accounted for by current major theories of relative clause processing when additional assumptions are introduced, and at the same time show that the possibility of semantically driven analysis can be considered as a serious alternative.