, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 121-143

Subject-Object Ambiguities in German Embedded Clauses: An Across-the-Board Comparison

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This paper examines the processing of embedded clauses in German which are ambiguous between a subject-before-object and an object-before-subject order. In an experiment using a speeded grammaticality judgment task, four types of locally ambiguous clauses were compared: (i) sentences involving movement of a definite noun phrase (NP), (ii) sentences involving pronoun movement, (iii) relative clauses, and (iv) embedded questions. We found that readers were consistently garden-pathed in the object-before-subject condition, regardless of sentence type. Furthermore, there were considerable differences with respect to garden-path strength. The garden-path effect was strongest for sentences involving scrambling. In addition, sentences involving pronoun movement induced more processing difficulty than embedded questions and relative clauses. We argue that our findings can be best explained within a serial processing model that acknowledges both syntactic and nonsyntactic influences on reanalysis and that can account for graded effects of garden-path strength.