How Animacy and Verbal Information Influence V2 Sentence Processing: Evidence from Eye Movements

Peter de Swart 1  and Geertje van Bergen 2
  • 1 Centre for Language Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen, 6500, Nijmegen, Netherlands
  • 2 Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, , 6525, Nijmegen, Netherlands


There exists a clear association between animacy and the grammatical function of transitive subject. The grammar of some languages require the transitive subject to be high in animacy, or at least higher than the object. A similar animacy preference has been observed in processing studies in languages without such a categorical animacy effect. This animacy preference has been mainly established in structures in which either one or both arguments are provided before the verb. Our goal was to establish (i) whether this preference can already be observed before any argument is provided, and (ii) whether this preference is mediated by verbal information. To this end we exploited the V2 property of Dutch which allows the verb to precede its arguments. Using a visual-world eye-tracking paradigm we presented participants with V2 structures with either an auxiliary (e.g. Gisteren heeft X … ‘Yesterday, X has …’) or a lexical main verb (e.g. Gisteren motiveerde X … ‘Yesterday, X motivated …’) and we measured looks to the animate referent. The results indicate that the animacy preference can already be observed before arguments are presented and that the selectional restrictions of the verb mediate this bias, but do not override it completely.

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