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

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Description: 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 & 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.

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This project includes the experimental materials, data and analysis code for Aguilar, M. & Grillo, G. (2021). Spanish is not different: On the universality of minimal structure and locality principles in Relative Clause attachment (to appear in Glossa)

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