[PS-3.35] Forget case, but remember number: processing participial constructions in Russian

Chernova, D. 1 & Slioussar, N. 2, 1

1 St.Petersburg State University
2 Higher School of Economics

Attachment ambiguity resolution (when a modifier can be attached to N1
(head) or N2 (dependent noun) in a complex noun phrase) is widely
discussed in the literature. RC modifiers are analyzed in most
studies, while we look at participial modifiers in Russian (in three
self-paced reading and questionnaire experiments) to make a new
contribution to this topic and to explore processing of different
features in a morphologically rich language.

In Russian, participles agree with nouns in number, gender and case.
Some forms are ambiguous between different cases (e.g.
Gen.Sg=Dat.Sg=Instr.Sg=Loc.Sg for feminine forms). We compared
sentences with such ambiguity (AMB-condition) to sentences where the
case or the number of the participle unambiguously indicated high (N1)
or low (N2) attachment (CASE/NUMBER LA/HA-conditions). We found online
preference for LA (RTs: LA<< AMB<<HA) and offline preference for HA
(AMB sentences significantly more often interpreted as HA). Notably,
participants made significantly more mistakes interpreting CASE
disambiguated sentences (especially CASE LA) than NUMBER ones. We
conclude that participants initially process both case and number
features (hence similar online findings), but then forget case much
more readily, potentially, because semantic distinctions introduced by
number are more salient (one/several referents vs. the same
referent(s) playing different roles).