Seminar Series

Priming of Syntactic Configurational Information

The syntactic priming effect is the observation that people are more likely to use a syntactic structure when that syntactic structure was just used before (e.g. Bock, 1986). However, almost all studies showing syntactic priming have primed syntactic information that is closely tied to lexemes. This means that the priming effects might be lexical in nature rather than syntactic. Recently, Scheepers (2003) showed that syntactic hierarchical information that is not tied to lexical entries (relative clause attachments to two potential noun phrases) can also be primed. In six experiments (with Dutch, English and Dutch-English bilinguals) we tried to get a better idea of the nature of these syntactic priming effects. These experiments show that relative clause attachment priming (1) can be obtained in Dutch and in English, (2) can be obtained from Dutch (primes) to English (targets) in bilinguals, (3) is unlikely to be due to priming of discourse representations, (4) is independent of the position in the sentence (subject versus object position), (5) is not just priming of modifying constructions, and (6) can be obtained even if the hierarchical structure of the noun phrase to which the relative clause is attached differs considerably between prime and target. The findings of these experiments are interesting because they suggests that studying syntactic priming can provide insight into which abstract syntactic structures can be activated and which representations people use when processing language.