Psychological insubstantiality of syntactic traces

2015. №1, 102-110

Anna К. Laurinavichyute a,@, Olga V. Dragoy a,b, Maria V. Ivanova a, Svetlana V. Kuptsova a,c, Anastasia S. Ulicheva d
a National Research University «Higher School of Economics», Moscow, 101000, Russia;
b Moscow Research Institute of Psychiatry, Moscow, 107076, Russia;
c Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 117485, Russia;
d The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China,;


The present study employed the visual-world eyetracking paradigm to discriminate between the syntactic and context-oriented strategies concerning the processing of wh-questions in 36 native speakers of Russian. According to the syntactic-oriented strategy, while processing the questions like Kto devochku potseloval v shkole? (who-NOM girl-ACC kissed at school?), activation of the object referent devochka at the verb would signal a post-verbal trace of wh-movement. Alternatively, if the processing is context-dependent, the overt object devochka preceding the verb precludes the possibility that it could be the referent of the whfiller, and the reactivation of the subject NP referent should follow instead. Indeed, the results show that the proportion of fixations on the object NP referent at the verb was less than on the subject NP referent. Therefore identification of the referent associated with the wh-filler is not syntactically constrained, but instead is contextually fed: as soon as the context provides enough cues to exclude referents that cannot be linked to the wh-filler, the remaining referent gets associated with it.