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Processing Unambiguous Verbal Passives in German

Grillo, N; Alexiadou, A; Gehrke, B; Hirsch, N; Paolazzi, C; Santi, AN; (2019) Processing Unambiguous Verbal Passives in German. Journal of Linguistics 10.1017/S0022226718000300. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

Passivization played a central role in shaping both linguistic theory and psycholinguistic approaches to sentence processing, language acquisition and impairment. We present the results of two experiments that simultaneously test online processing (self-paced reading) and offline comprehension (through comprehension questions) of passives in German while also manipulating the event structure of the predicates used. In contrast to English, German passives are unambiguously verbal allowing for the study of passivization independent of a confound in the degree of interpretive ambiguity (verbal/adjectival). In English this ambiguity interacts with event structure, with passives of stative predicates naturally receiving an adjectival interpretation. In a recent study, Paolazzi et al. (2015, 2016) show that in contrast to the mainstream theoretical perspective passive sentences are not inherently harder to process than actives. Complexity of passivization in English is tied to the aspectual class of the verbal predicate passivized: with eventive predicates passives are read faster (as hinted at in previous literature) and generate no comprehension difficulties (in contrast to previous findings with mixed predicates). Complexity effects with passivization, in turn, are only found with stative predicates. The asymmetry is claimed to stem from the temporary adjectival/verbal ambiguity of stative passives in English. We predict that the observed difficulty with English stative passives disappears in German, given that in this language the passive construction under investigation is unambiguously verbal. The results support this prediction: Both offline and online there was no difficulty with passivization, under either eventive or stative predicates. In fact, passives and their rich morphology eased parsing across both types of predicates.

Type: Article
Title: Processing Unambiguous Verbal Passives in German
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1017/S0022226718000300
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022226718000300
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Sentence Processing, Complexity, Passives, Event Structure, German
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Linguistics
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10053875
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