Seeing events vs. entities: The processing advantage of Pseudo Relatives over Relative Clauses.

Céline Pozniak, Barbara Hemforth, Yair Haendler, Andrea Santi, Nino Grillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present the results of three offline questionnaires (one attachment preference study and two acceptability judgments) and two eye-tracking studies in French and English, investigating the resolution of the ambiguity between pseudo relative and relative clause interpretations. This structural and interpretive ambiguity has recently been shown to play a central role in the explanation of apparent cross-linguistic asymmetries in relative clause attachment (Grillo & Costa, 2014; Grillo et al., 2015). This literature has argued that pseudo relatives are preferred to relative clauses because of their structural and interpretive simplicity. This paper adds to this growing body of literature in two ways. First we show that, in contrast to previous findings, French speakers prefer to attach relative clauses to the most local antecedent once pseudo relative availability is controlled for. We then provide direct support for the pseudo relative preference: grammatically forced disambiguation to a relative clause interpretation leads to degraded acceptability and greater processing cost in a pseudo relative environment than maintaining compatibility with a pseudo relative.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-151
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Early online date13 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • (Pseudo) Relative clauses
  • Ambiguity resolution
  • Attachment preferences
  • Economy of computation
  • Locality
  • Universality of parsing principles

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