[PS-1.62] Processing unambiguous verbal passives in German

Grillo, N. 1 , Alexiadou, A. 1 , Gehrke, B. 2 , Hirsh, N. 1 , Paolazzi, C. 3 & Santi, A. 3

1 Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
2 CNRS-Paris Diderot
3 University College London

We investigate the effect of event-structure on the processing of passivization in German. In contrast to English, German passives are unambiguously verbal or adjectival. This feature allows for the study of passivization independent of any (verbal/adjectival) ambiguity confound. Paolazzi et al. (2015 AMLaP, 2016 CUNY) show that, contrary to broadly held theoretical perspectives, passive sentences are not inherently harder to process than actives. Complexity of passivization in English is tied to the predicate event structure: with eventive predicates, passives are read faster (as previously observed in the literature) and generate no comprehension difficulties (contrary to previous findings with mixed predicates). Complexity effects with passivization are only found with stative verbs. The asymmetry is claimed to stem from the adjectival/verbal ambiguity of stative passives, in English. We tested the account by looking at the processing of unambiguous verbal-passives in German across two (event vs state) word-by-word non-cumulative self-paced-reading studies in a moving-window paradigm that manipulated syntax (active vs passive), with each sentence followed by a comprehension question. The prediction being that when the adjectival reading is no longer available, the effects observed with English statives, should disappear. The results supported this prediction, both online and offline (active-stative: 87%, passive-stative: 88.2% correct).