On Pseudorelatives and Human Sentence Parsing

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The debate over whether universal parsing mechanisms are necessary to explain sentence comprehension is clearly a fundamental one for cognitive science. This dissertation focuses on the relation between syntactic ambiguity and principles of economy in the parsing of ambiguous Pseudo Relative (PR)/ Relative Clause (RC) strings. While the principles of locality would predict local attachment in (exclusive) RC contexts, PR-first Hypothesis (Grillo & Costa, 2014) predicts high attachment (corresponding to a PR parse) in ambiguous PR/RC contexts. We test the offline and online effects of PR availability in Spanish using a variety of research methods (eye-tracking while reading, sentence completion task, forced-choice questionnaire, acceptability judgement), while also looking at the interaction with other factors such as aspectual properties of the embedded predicate. The results reported here are robust across studies and show an influence of PRs on the parsing of RCs: when PRs are not a confound, and relevant factors are controlled (e.g. length of the clauses), locality principles apply to RC attachment; when PRs are available, attachment preferences shift toward the non-local option. These results support the universality of parsing principles and suggest that crosslinguistic variation in RC attachment is epiphenomenal and largely attributable to the asymmetric availability of PRs across languages. This dissertation also provides a detailed description on PR-licensing contexts that might be useful for future research on RC attachment preferences to avoid the PR confound.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Universidade NOVA de Lisboa
  • Costa, João , Supervisor
  • Lobo, Maria , Supervisor
Award date24 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Universality of parsing Principles
  • Syntactic ambiguities
  • Optimal Computation
  • PR-first Hypothesis
  • Pseudo Relatives
  • Relative Clause attachment
  • Aspect
  • Eye-tracking


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