Animate Subject or Animate Actor? Disentangling the influence of animacy on the assignment of thematic relations and grammatical functions.

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This paper explores the influence of noun phrase animacy on argument interpretation in visual on-line sentence comprehension. In particular, it investigates its influence on the mapping of noun phrase onto thematic macro roles and grammatical functions separately. Mapping processes are outlined on the basis of Role and Reference Grammar (Van Valin, 2005) and a recent neurolinguistic framework, the extended Argument Dependency Model by Bornkessel & Schlesewsky (2006). Recent evidence for an influence of animacy on either of the two mapping processes is reviewed and evaluated. A study on event-related potentials (ERPs) is presented, which compares reactions to transitive verb-final clauses with active verbs with those containing experiencer verbs, which allows to disentangle actorhood from subjecthood. Additionally to the manipulation of the verb type, animacy distribution and –order was varied across the pre-verbal noun phrases. The experiment showed, that the ordering of animate and inanimate arguments, rather than the role or function a noun phrase is mapped onto, has a strong effect on incremental sentence comprehension. This result calls core assumptions of the extended Argument Dependency Model and other psycholinguistic frameworks into question.
Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen