Syntactic Memory in the Comprehension of Reflexive Dependencies: an Overview

Abstract

The distribution of reflexive anaphors has long been of central importance in the development of syntactic theory. In a parallel fashion, research on the comprehension of reflexive anaphors is increasingly influential for theories of syntactic comprehension. In this article, I present the problem of selecting a reflexive’s antecedent as a memory retrieval problem and illustrate why the comprehension of reflexives is of special interest for theories of the memory architecture of the sentence processor. I review a range of influential findings on reflexive comprehension, focusing on results that concern the speed and grammatical accuracy of antecedent retrieval. An emerging empirical generalization is that reflexives are relatively immune to retrieval interference, a property that sets them apart from superficially similar syntactic dependencies like subject–verb agreement. Existing data, across languages and across methodologies, suggest that comprehenders retrieve a reflexive’s antecedent primarily on the basis of its syntactic position.

Publication
Frontiers in Psychology, 6.