Jed Pizarro-Guevara

What Tagalog can teach us: The influence of word order in reflexive processing

A standard account of reflexive processing involves cue-based retrieval (Lewis & Vashishth, 2005; inter alia). Upon encountering himself in (1), a retrieval operation is launched, searching for elements in working memory that match the retrieval cues instantiated by the reflexive—simplifying a bit, let’s say masculine and singular.

(1) The bodybuilder who worked with the trainers amazingly injured himself…

Some argue that this search is syntactically guided (Sturt, 2003; Dillon et al., 2013; inter alia). Under this view, comprehenders only deploy or highly weight structural cues (e.g., Principle A) to constrain their search space. However, the experimental items used in the literature have a potential confound: the reflexive is immediately in post-verbal position (King et al., 2012; Kush & Phillips, 2014). This position could give the reflexive access to the structurally licensed subject via recent activation, without the need to rely on syntactically guided retrieval cues.

In this talk, I will present a self-paced reading experiment that leverages Tagalog’s VSO word order to determine the extent to which the results in the literature can be attributed to recent activation. In the present study, the structurally licensed subject was modified by a relative clause to ensure that it is given enough temporal distance from the reflexive to allow decay in activation. Thus, this word order configuration allows the contribution of recent activation to be factored out. I will discuss the implications of the results for models of reflexive processing that leverage structural cues. Lastly, I will talk about some ideas for future experiments aimed at understanding the nature of the results better.