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Processing complexity in prenominal present participle constructions in German

  • Attributive participle constructions in German behave like adjectives in terms of inflection and position, but keep their verbal arguments. They can be extended by adjuncts or arguments and these extended attributive present participles mainly occur in written language (Weber, 1994). As the same content can also be expressed in a relative clause (RC), I compare both constructions in order to find out under which conditions a participle construction could lead to processing difficulties and how this relates to RC processing. Based on previous assumptions for production (e.g. Weber, 1971; Fabricius-Hansen, 2016), three potential factors on the comprehension of prenominal modifiers and RCs are investigated: modifier length, the internal structure and multiple levels of embedding. The hypotheses for an effect on modifier length are mainly based on two processing accounts that make opposite predictions under specific circumstances: memory-based accounts such as the dependency locality theory (DLT) (e.g. Gibson, 2000) and expectation-based accounts such as surprisal (e.g. Levy, 2008). An increase in modifier length results in more intervening material between determiner and noun for the participle construction, contrary to RCs where these elements are adjacent. This separation of the DP could increase memory load. Therefore, longer participles would slow down processing of the noun, while there should be no difference for RCs. Two acceptability judgment experiments showed a tendency for longer participle phrases to receive lower ratings. The modifier length was further investigated in online processing. Contrary to the predicted locality effect, self-paced reading data reveals an anti-locality effect for participle phrases, with lower RTs on the noun when additional material was present inside the modifier. This experiment was followed up by an eye-tracking experiment which replicated the anti-locality effect, but at the participle instead at the noun. The second factor that was investigated is the argument structure of the participle (or RC verb). My hypothesis is that more “prototypical” adjectives in terms of syntactic structure and semantics are more acceptable and easier to process. Attributive participles are considered hybrids between verbs and adjectives (e.g. Fuhrhop & Teuber, 2000; L¨ubbe & Rapp, 2011) due to their modifier internal verbal function, but adjectival position and agreement with the noun. This double role could lead to difficulties, in particular with a more complex verbal structure. Therefore, the prediction was that the presence of an accusative object inside a participle phrase would lead to lower acceptability ratings and higher reading times in online processing. In the first two acceptability experiments, this prediction was borne out. In addition, an SPR experiment was conducted which manipulated the presence of either an accusative object or adjunct for participles (of verbs that could be used intransitively and transitively) and the corresponding RCs. The experiment showed an effect of the presence of an accusative object on the participle, with higher reading times if an object was present, compared to an adjunct. No such difference was found for the RC verb, which indicates that only participles are processed more slowly when there is an accusative object. An alternative explanation for this finding is the inherent imperfective aspect of the present participle: a direct object could change the event structure in such a way that the aspect no longer matches. The third factor I investigate is an effect of double embedding on the acceptability of participle phrases and RCs. While double embedded participles are rated lower than double embedded RCs, there is a smaller decrease from single to double embedding for participles than for RCs, contrary to the predictions calculated by the metric of the DLT. Overall, the results provide evidence for experience-based processing, but they cannot be explained by either memory- or experience-based accounts alone. The effect concerning the presence of an accusative object suggest that properties of the participle distinguish the construction from RCs and affect its processing. The thesis suggests that the latter effect needs to be investigated further in future research. Furthermore, the findings have implications for the role of attributive present participles in German and for hypotheses about similar constructions in other languages.

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Author:Astrid Gößwein
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Referee:Markus Bader, Sol LagoORCiD
Advisor:Markus Bader, Sol Lago
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2022/04/08
Year of first Publication:2022
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2022/01/14
Release Date:2022/05/03
Page Number:316
Last Page:300
Institutes:Neuere Philologien
Dewey Decimal Classification:4 Sprache / 43 Deutsch, germanische Sprachen allgemein / 430 Germanische Sprachen; Deutsch
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht