The correspondence between sentence production and corpus frequencies in modifier attachment
We examined the production of relative clauses in sentences with a complex noun phrase containing two possible attachment sites for the relative clause (e.g., "Someone shot the servant of the actress who was on the balcony."). On the basis of two corpus analyses and two sentence continuation tasks, we conclude that much research about this specific syntactic ambiguity has used complex noun phrases that are quite uncommon. These noun phrases involve the relationship between two humans and, at least in Dutch, induce a different attachment preference from noun phrases referring to non-human entities. We provide evidence that the use of this type of complex noun phrase may have distorted the conclusions about the processes underlying relative clause attachment. In addition, it is shown that, notwithstanding some notable differences between sentence production in the continuation task and in coherent text writing, there seems to be a remarkable correspondence between the attachment patterns obtained with both modes of production.
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