Modifier Attachment: Relative Clauses and Coordinations

  • Barbara Hemforth
  • Lars Konieczny
  • Christoph Scheepers
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 24)


In this paper, we will discuss accounts of cross-linguistic differences in attachment preferences for relative clauses. In the first section, we will present an overview of data from two-site attachment ambiguities like (1). We will argue for a modular model of sentence processing where a discourse-based preference for a salient antecedent of the relative pronoun and a syntax-based recency preference contribute to empirically observable attachment preferences.
  1. (1)

    the daughter of the teacher who lived in France

    In the second section, we will extend this account to three-site ambiguities like (13,3) which were first investigated by Gibson et al. (1996a, b), based on three German questionnaire experiments.

  2. (2)

    the lamp near the painting in the house that was damaged in the flood (Gibson et al., 1996a)

  3. (3)
    the customer with the child with the dirty face and
    • the wet diaper

    • the one with the wet diaper

    • the one with the baby with the wet diaper


For English and Spanish, Gibson et al. (1996a) found an NP3 over NP1 over NP2 attachment preferences for relative clauses which could also be established for English conjoined NPs. We will show that attachment preferences in comparable German constructions are highly similar to the preferences established for English (and Spanish where available). We will present evidence for a change in the preference pattern if the relative clause is extraposed leading


Relative Clause Ambiguity Resolution Attachment Preference Prepositional Phrase Discourse Referent 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara Hemforth
    • 1
  • Lars Konieczny
    • 2
  • Christoph Scheepers
    • 3
  1. 1.University of FreiburgGermany
  2. 2.Saarland UniversityGermany
  3. 3.University of GlasgowUK

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