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Acquisition and cognition 2007

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Syntactic complexity

  Contact person
Florence CHENU , Claire DELLE LUCHE , Bruno MARTINIE , Frederique GAYRAUD

Scientific framework and objectives

This project explores syntactic complexity through the examination of the processing of relative clauses. This structure proves to be very difficult to process: since relativization involves the movement of a constituent, the interpretation of the sentence cannot rest upon canonical word order, and in order to be assigned a thematic role, this moved constituent needs to be interpreted via its related empty category. In the meantime, it has to be stored in working memory. Furthermore, in the case of object relative clauses modifying the subject NP, the matrix clause is interrupted. These factors represent an extra processing load and are hypothesized to be likely to disrupt or to make difficult comprehension, production and acquisition.


In this project, our goal is to provide a better understanding of the relationship between linguistic structure and their processing by the human parser. In order to do so, we examine the processing of relative clauses from different points of view : linguistic, cognitive, developmental (L1 and L2), comprehension, spoken and written production. Different factors of complexity are examined such as the position of the relative clause (center-embedding vs. right branching), and its function (object vs. subject).

  Financial support
  • Aides à Projet Nouveau



  • Delle Luche, C., Gayraud, F., Martinie, B., Meunier, F., 2005, "To what extent does the difficulty of processing relative clauses parallel typological complexity ?", Approaches to complexity in language, Helsinki, Finlande, 24-26 août
  • Delle Luche, C., Gayraud, F., Martinie, B., Meunier, F., 2005, "Why the study of relative clauses processing should not be restricted to Object and Subject function", proc. of AMLAP, Ghent, Belgique, 5-7 septembre
  • Delle Luche, C., Hoen, M., Gayraud, F., Meunier, F., 2005, "The processing of French relative clauses: effect of semantis and the morphological cue", Science of Aphasia 6, Helsinki, Finlande, 26-30 août
  • Delle Luche, C., van Gompel, R., Gayraud, F., Martinie, B., 2006, "Relative pronouns as accessibility markers", proc. of 19th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, New York, March 23-25
  • Delle Luche, C., van Gompel, R., Gayraud, F., Martinie, B., 2006, "Effect of relative pronoun type on relative clause attachment", proc. of Ambiguity in Anaphora Workshop, ESSLLI 2006, Malaga, Spain, 7-11 August, Artstein, R., Poesio, M. (eds)
  • Delle Luche, C., 2006, "Syntaxe et sémantique dans la compréhension de propositions relatives en français", proc. of Colloque international des étudiants chercheurs en didactique des langues et linguistique, Grenoble, France, 4-7 July
  • Gayraud, F., Martinie, B., 2004, "Pauses as indicators of sentence planning revisited", AMLAP, Aix en Provence, 16-18 septembre 2004
  • Gayraud, F., Martinie, B., 2005, "Are complex sentences really difficult to process ?", Approaches to complexity in language, Helsinki, Finlande, 24-26 août 2005
  • Gayraud, F., Martinie, B., 2008, "Does structural complexity necessarily imply processing difficulty?", Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 37:1, pp. 21-31
  • Gayraud, F., Martinie, B., 2004, "Complexité syntaxique et difficulté de traitement : l’exemple des relatives", in Interactions orales en contexte didactique. Mieux (se) comprendre pour mieux (se) parler et pour mieux (s’)apprendre, Rabatel, A. (eds), PUL

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