Spanish is not different: On the universality of minimal structure and locality principles

Miriam Aguilar, Nino Grillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A sensible assumption in psycholinguistics is that universal principles of optimal computation guide structural decisions made during sentence processing. This idea was questioned by the apparent cross-linguistic variation in Relative Clause attachment: a wealth of experimental results from the nineties showed that speakers of Spanish, among other languages, more readily converged towards the least optimal structural resolution (i.e. non-local attachment) challenging the universality of parsing principles of locality. A more recent development in this literature demonstrated that previous results were confounded by the availability of an additional parse, the so-called Pseudo Relative, in the ill-behaved languages (Grillo 2012, Grillo and Costa 2014). Grillo and colleagues further suggested that the parser more readily disambiguates in favour of the Pseudo Relative reading, when possible, because of its structural and interpretive simplicity in comparison to Relative Clauses and that non-local attachment is a direct consequence of this independent preference. We present novel results in support of this account from two offline forced-choice attachment questionnaires in Spanish. The results show that Pseudo Relative availability significantly affects attachment preferences and that cross-linguistic variation in Relative Clause attachment is likely to be epiphenomenal and largely attributable to underlying grammatical differences.
Original languageEnglish
Article number89
Number of pages22
JournalGlossa: a journal of general linguistics
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2021

Cite this