An interference account of the missing-VP effect

  • Sentences with doubly center-embedded relative clauses in which a verb phrase (VP) is missing are sometimes perceived as grammatical, thus giving rise to an illusion of grammaticality. In this paper, we provide a new account of why missing-VP sentences, which are both complex and ungrammatical, lead to an illusion of grammaticality, the so-called missing-VP effect. We propose that the missing-VP effect in particular, and processing difficulties with multiply center-embedded clauses more generally, are best understood as resulting from interference during cue-based retrieval. When processing a sentence with double center-embedding, a retrieval error due to interference can cause the verb of an embedded clause to be erroneously attached into a higher clause. This can lead to an illusion of grammaticality in the case of missing-VP sentences and to processing complexity in the case of complete sentences with double center-embedding. Evidence for an interference account of the missing-VP effect comes from experiments that have investigated the missing-VP effect in German using a speeded grammaticality judgments procedure. We review this evidence and then present two new experiments that show that the missing-VP effect can be found in German also with less restricting procedures. One experiment was a questionnaire study which required grammaticality judgments from participants without imposing any time constraints. The second experiment used a self-paced reading procedure and did not require any judgments. Both experiments confirm the prior findings of missing-VP effects in German and also show that the missing-VP effect is subject to a primacy effect as known from the memory literature. Based on this evidence, we argue that an account of missing-VP effects in terms of interference during cue-based retrieval is superior to accounts in terms of limited memory resources or in terms of experience with embedded structures.

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Author:Jana Häussler, Markus BaderORCiDGND
Pubmed Id:
Parent Title (English):Frontiers in psychology
Publisher:Frontiers Research Foundation
Place of publication:Lausanne
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2015/06/16
Date of first Publication:2015/06/16
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2020/01/23
Tag:German; center embedding; cue-based retrieval; grammatical illusion; interference; missing-VP effect; sentence parsing
Issue:art. 766
Page Number:16
Copyright © 2015 Häussler and Bader. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Institutes:Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaften / Sprachwissenschaften
Dewey Decimal Classification:4 Sprache / 41 Linguistik / 410 Linguistik
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung 4.0