[PS-2.35] Hierarchical vs. linear effects on subject-verb agreement in German

Pappert, S.

Bielefeld University

The computation of agreement is a test case for hierarchical vs. linear representations in sentence processing. Three experiments investigated the impact of subject-object order, case marking, verb position, and attraction on agreement errors in German SVO, SOV, OVS, and OSV sentences. Case-ambiguous objects yielded a huge effect of subject-object order (error rates OS > SO) that was modulated by adverb position, indicating that the effect could not be reduced to a subject first preference. Ambiguous objects were stronger attractors than subject-specifying genitives (against Hartsuiker, Antón-Méndez, & van Zee, 2001). The effect of word order was significantly reduced in sentences with objects that displayed unambiguous case marking (Hartsuiker et al., 2003). In addition, an effect of verb position (error rates V-final > V2) was found. The attested effects might be explained by effects of prominence (subject-object order), order of acquisition (agreement associated with V2; Clahsen, 1986), and a general preference of object-verb adjacency (highest error rates for OSV; Ros et al., 2015). An alternative proposal relies on feature checking in C-command relations (cf. Franck et al., 2006) and has the potential to provide a unified account for effects of subject-object order, ambiguity, and verb position.