A Processing Model for Free Word Order Languages

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Joshi, Aravind K

Like many verb-final languages, German displays considerable word-order freedom: there is no syntactic constraint on the ordering of the nominal arguments of a verb, as long as the verb remains in final position. This effect is referred to as “scrambling”, and is interpreted in transformational frameworks as leftward movement of the arguments. Furthermore, arguments from an embedded clause may move out of their clause; this effect is referred to as “long-distance scrambling”. While scrambling has recently received considerable attention in the syntactic literature, the status of long-distance scrambling has only rarely been addressed. The reason for this is the problematic status of the data: not only is long-distance scrambling highly dependent on pragmatic context, it also is strongly subject to degradation due to processing constraints. As in the case of center-embedding, it is not immediately clear whether to assume that observed unacceptability of highly complex sentences is due to grammatical restrictions, or whether we should assume that the competence grammar does not place any restrictions on scrambling (and that, therefore, all such sentences are in fact grammatical), and the unacceptability of some (or most) of the grammatically possible word orders is due to processing limitations. In this paper, we will argue for the second view by presenting a processing model for German.

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University of Pennsylvania Institute for Research in Cognitive Science Technical Report No. IRCS-95-13.
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