Journal of Germanic Linguistics


The Role of Contrast in the Local Licensing of Scrambling in German: Evidence from Online Comprehension

Ina Bornkessel a1c1 and Matthias Schlesewsky a2c2
a1 Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig
a2 University of Marburg


We examine the role of contrast in the local licensing of scrambling in on-line language comprehension in German using event-related brain potentials (ERP). Although contrastive readings give rise to a higher acceptability of scrambled word orders, they do not lead to an attenuation of the processing difficulties observed at the position of the scrambled object itself. Thus, similar to previous findings on givenness, contrast leads to global but not local licensing of scrambled structures, a finding that speaks against an immediate interaction of all relevant information types. The pattern is reversed when the scrambled object induces a corrective focus reading. Here scrambling does not give rise to increased local processing cost, but global acceptability decreases. These findings suggest that corrective focus can override local syntactic requirements on the basis of its extraordinarily high communicative saliency.

c1 Independent Junior Research Group Neurotypology, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Stephanstr. 1a, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany []
c2 Independent Research Group Neurolinguistics, Department of Germanic Linguistics, Philipps University Marburg Wilhelm-Röpke-Straße 6A, D-35032 Marburg, Germany, []