Relative clauses (RCs) in Chinese are prenominal. In object-modifying, object-extracted RCs (e.g. Click on [RC the ball broke] window, meaning ‘Click on the window [RC that the ball broke]), the ambiguous status of the local noun ball and the long-distance attachment of the head noun window into the main verb appear to make online parsing of Chinese RCs particularly difficult. By interposing mismatching classifiers and the passive marker BEI into the RC sentences, we investigated whether the presence of incomplete heads would add storage costs, as predicted by the Dependency Locality Theory (DLT), or would serve as retrieval cues to help pre-build the RC structure, as predicted by the cue-based retrieval theory. Results from a visual world eye-tracking experiment and a self-paced reading showed that Chinese comprehenders are able to use BEI cues and the mismatching classifier (albeit to a less extent) to pre-build RC structure, providing support for the cue-based retrieval theory.
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