Graduation Semester and Year




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics



First Advisor

Jeffrey D Witzel


This study investigates the influence of syntactic, semantic, and frequency-of-occurrence information, as well as role of memory in the comprehension of complex sentences. This was done by examining the processing of Russian subject- and object-extracted relative clauses (SRCs and ORCs) that had the same word order configuration, but different noun phrase (NP) types (descriptive noun vs. pronoun) in the relative clause (RC). In both SRCs and ORCs, this word order was such that an NP argument preceded the RC verb, establishing equivalent linear distance between the modified noun and its integrating verb. A corpus analysis and offline acceptability rating experiment indicated different frequency profiles and preferences for this word order depending on clause type (SRC vs. ORC) and embedded-clause NP type (descriptive noun vs. pronoun). Reading patterns on these SRC/ORC sentences, as well as on matched complement clause sentences, were examined using self-paced reading (SPR) and eye tracking. In line with structural expectation effects, both SPR and eye tracking revealed processing difficulty at the first embedded-clause NP for clauses with dispreferred word orders. Also consistent with these effects, the eye-tracking experiment revealed processing costs at and after the relativizer in ORCs, which generally occur less frequently than SRCs. Across experiments, there were also clear integration costs for RC sentences at and after the RC verb, which were comparable for both SRCs and ORCs when integration distance was held constant. Finally, late-stage comprehension difficulty was found for nominal ORCs, but not for their pronominal counterparts, suggesting that similarity-based interference also influences RC processing – particularly for nominal ORCs, in which organizing the thematic roles for NPs might be especially difficult. These findings are taken to support a hybrid model of incremental processing difficulty in RC sentences that posits core roles for structural expectations and memory-based integration (e.g., Levy, Fedorenko, & Gibson, 2013; Staub, 2010).


Sentence processing, Relative clauses, Russian, Self-paced reading, Eye tracking, Corpus analysis, Word order frequency, Word order preferences


Linguistics | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Degree granted by The University of Texas at Arlington

Included in

Linguistics Commons