Nominal Modification

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Home » Virtual GK Colloquium May 26: Astrid Gößwein

Virtual GK Colloquium May 26: Astrid Gößwein

On Tuesday, May 26th virtual GK Colloquium will be hosting a talk by Astrid Gößwein entitled ‘Double center embedding of prenominal participle constructions and relative clauses in German. See below for the abstract. 

When: 4:15 pm-6:00 pm
Where: Online via Zoom
(please send an e-mail to to get access link)

 Double center embedding of prenominal participle constructions and relative clauses in German

Center embedded structures are known to cause processing difficulties, because open dependencies need to be stored in memory. While there is empirical evidence for an increase of memory load in relative clauses (e.g. Gibson & Thomas 1999), it is unclear whether prenominal attributes are affected in the same way.
(1a) shows an example: here, the accusative object of the participle (‘hugging’) is again modified by a participle (‘playing’) and both participle phrases are between determiner and noun. Relative clauses as in (1b) occur left to the DP. Hence, prenominal attributes like present participle phrases are already center embedded in the DP (when a determiner is present), which causes additional memory load. This raises the question how this additional memory load affects the processing of the structure.

a. present participle
   der die im       Garten spielende Enkelin              umarmende Opa
   the the in the garden playing     granddaughter hugging        grandpa
b. relative clause
   der Opa,       der   die Enkelin,              die   im       Garten spielt, umarmt
   the grandpa who the granddaughter who in the garden plays   hugs
‘the grandpa (who is) hugging the granddaughter (who is) playing in the garden’

I will present two acceptability judgment experiments that compare double embedded present participle phrases and RCs to single embedded counterparts. The results in the first experiment show a decrease in acceptability for RCs with a second level of embedding. There is no such difference for present participles, but the ratings were overall lower than for RCs. Assuming that there might be other confounds leading to this result, I conducted a second experiment. This experiment shows the a difference between single and double embedded participle phrases as well as for RCs, with all participle phrases receiving lower ratings than RCs.

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