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Coargumenthood and the processing of reflexives

Cunnings, I. ORCID: and Sturt, P. (2014) Coargumenthood and the processing of reflexives. Journal of Memory and Language, 75. pp. 117-139. ISSN 0749-596X

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.jml.2014.05.006


We report three eye-movement experiments and an antecedent choice task investigating the interpretation of reflexives in different syntactic contexts. This included contexts in which the reflexive and a local antecedent were coarguments of the same verbal predicate (John heard that the soldier had injured himself), and also so-called picture noun phrases, either with a possessor (John heard about the soldier’s picture of himself) or without (John heard that the soldier had a picture of himself). While results from the antecedent choice task indicated that comprehenders would choose a nonlocal antecedent (‘John’ above) for reflexives in either type of picture noun phrase, the eye-movement experiments suggested that participants preferred to initially interpret the reflexive in each context as referring to the local antecedent (‘the soldier’), as indexed by longer reading times when it mismatched in gender with the reflexive. We also observed a difference in the time-course of this effect. While it was observed during first-pass processing at the reflexive for coargument reflexives and those in picture noun phrases with a possessor, it was comparatively delayed for reflexives in possessorless picture noun phrases. These results suggest that locality constraints are more strongly weighted cues to retrieval than gender agreement for both coargument reflexives and those inside picture noun phrases. We interpret the observed time-course differences as indexing the relative ease of accessing the local antecedent in different syntactic contexts.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM)
Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Clinical Language Sciences
ID Code:36999


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