Volume 41, Issue 4
  • ISSN 0378-4177
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9978
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes


Subject preference in relative clauses (RCs) has been reported in typologically diverse languages, but overall one notes that the number of languages analyzed experimentally remains extremely low. This paper presents experimental and natural evidence from Ixcatec, a critically-endangered Otomanguean language. Ixcatec is relevant to the discussion on universal subject preference for having syntactically and morphologically ambiguous subject and object RCs that can offer an unconfounded result. Study 1, a picture-matching comprehension experiment, shows that 63% of the ambiguous RCs are interpreted as subject RCs. Results from reaction times show that subject RC interpretations are numerically faster than object RC interpretations, but this difference does not reach significance. Analysis of a three-hour, free-speech corpus in Study 2 indicates that transitive subject RCs are only slightly more frequent than object RCs. In conclusion, although the Ixcatec data support universal subject preference, they also show how this preference is weaker than predicted.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Adamou, Evangelia
    2014 L’antipassif en ixcatèque. Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris109(1). 373–396.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. 2016A corpus-driven approach to language contact. Endangered languages in a comparative perspective. Berlin & Boston: Mouton de Gruyter. doi: 10.1515/9781614516576
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9781614516576 [Google Scholar]
  3. 2017 Spatial language and cognition among the Ixcatec-Spanish bilinguals (Mexico). In Kate Bellamy , Mike Child , Antje Muntendam & M. Carmen Parafita Couto (eds.), Multidisciplinary approaches to bilingualism in the Hispanic and Lusophone world, 175–209. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/ihll.13.08ada
    https://doi.org/10.1075/ihll.13.08ada [Google Scholar]
  4. Adamou, Evangelia & Denis Costaouec
    2013 El complementante la en ixcateco: marcador de clausula relativa, completiva y adverbial. Amerindia37(1). 193–210.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Aissen, Judith
    1996 Pied-piping, abstract agreement, and functional projections in Tzotzil. Natural language and linguistic theory14(3). 447‒491. doi: 10.1007/BF00133596
    https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00133596 [Google Scholar]
  6. Alexopoulou, Theodora
    2006 Resumption in relative clauses. Natural language and linguistic theory24(1). 57‒111. doi: 10.1007/s11049‑005‑0898‑2
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-005-0898-2 [Google Scholar]
  7. Anand, Pranav , Sandra Chung & Matthew Wagers
    2011 Widening the net: Challenges for gathering linguistic data in the digital age. Submitted to the National Science Foundation SBE 2020 planning activity. https://www.nsf.gov/sbe/sbe_2020/2020_pdfs/Wagers_Matthew_121.pdf (accessed16 January 2017).
  8. Andrews, Avery D.
    2007 Relative clauses. In Timothy Shopen (ed.), Language typology and syntactic description, 206–236. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511619434.004
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511619434.004 [Google Scholar]
  9. Asudeh, Ash
    2012The logic of pronominal resumption. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199206421.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199206421.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  10. Bates, Douglas , Martin Maechler , Ben Bolker & Steve Walker
    2015 Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software67(1). 1–48. doi: 10.18637/jss.v067.i01
    https://doi.org/10.18637/jss.v067.i01 [Google Scholar]
  11. Borer, Hagit
    1984 Restrictive relatives in modern Hebrew. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory2(2). 219–260. doi: 10.1007/BF00133282
    https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00133282 [Google Scholar]
  12. Borja, Manuel F. , Sandra Chung & Matthew Wagers
    2016 Constituent order and parser control processes in Chamorro. In Amber Camp , Yuko Otsuka , Claire Stabile & Nozomi Tanaka (eds.), Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association, 15–32. Canberra: Asia-Pacific Linguistics.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Caplan, David , Nathaniel Alpert & Gloria Waters
    1999 PET studies of syntactic processing with auditory sentence presentation. NeuroImage9(3). 343–351. doi: 10.1006/nimg.1998.0412
    https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.1998.0412 [Google Scholar]
  14. Caplan, David , Nathaniel Alpert , Gloria Waters & Anthony Olivieri
    2000 Activation of Broca’s area by syntactic processing under conditions of concurrent articulation. Human Brain Mapping9(2). 65–71. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097‑0193(200002)9:2<65::AID‑HBM1>3.0.CO;2‑4
    https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1097-0193(200002)9:2<65::AID-HBM1>3.0.CO;2-4 [Google Scholar]
  15. Caplan, David , Sujith Vijayan , Gina Kuperberg , Caroline West , Gloria Waters , Doug Greve & Anders M. Dale
    2001 Vascular responses to syntactic processing: Event related fMRI study of relative clauses. Human Brain Mapping15(1). 26–38. doi: 10.1002/hbm.1059
    https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.1059 [Google Scholar]
  16. Carreiras, Manuel , Jon Andoni Duñabeitia , Marta Vergara , Irene de la Cruz-Pavía & Itziar Laka
    2010 Subject relative clauses are not universally easier to process: Evidence from Basque. Cognition115(1). 79–92. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.11.012
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2009.11.012 [Google Scholar]
  17. Clemens, Lauren Eby , Jessica Coon , Pedro Mateo Pedro , Adam Milton Morgan , Maria Polinsky , Gabrielle Tandet & Matthew Wagers
    2015 Ergativity and the complexity of extraction: A view from Mayan. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory33(2). 417–469. doi: 10.1007/s11049‑014‑9260‑x
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-014-9260-x [Google Scholar]
  18. Costaouec, Denis & Michael Swanton
    2015 Classification nominale en ixcatèque. La linguistique51(2). 201–239. doi: 10.3917/ling.512.0201
    https://doi.org/10.3917/ling.512.0201 [Google Scholar]
  19. Desmet, Timothy & Edward Gibson
    2003 Disambiguation preferences and corpus frequencies in noun phrase conjunction. Journal of Memory and Language49(3). 353–374. doi: 10.1016/S0749‑596X(03)00025‑1
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0749-596X(03)00025-1 [Google Scholar]
  20. Dryer, Matthew
    2011 Order of subject and verb. In Matthew Dryer & Martin Haspelmath (eds.), The World Atlas of Language Structures online. Munich, Max Planck Digital Library. wals.info/chapter/82 (accessed6 July 2014).
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Duffield, Cecily Jill & Laura A. Michaelis
    2011 Why subject relatives prevail: Constraints versus constructional licensing. Language and Cognition3(2). 171–208. doi: 10.1515/LANGCOG.2011.007
    https://doi.org/10.1515/LANGCOG.2011.007 [Google Scholar]
  22. Fernández de Miranda, María Teresa
    1951 Reconstrucción del protopopoloca. Revista Mexicana de Estudios Antropológicos12. 61–93.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. 1953 Las formas posesivas del ixcateco. Memoria del Congreso Científico Mexicano12. 159–170.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. 1956Glotocronología de la familia popoloca. México, DF: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. 1959Fonémica del Ixcateco. México, DF: Instituto nacional de antropología e historia (INAH).
    [Google Scholar]
  26. 1961Diccionario ixcateco. México, DF: Instituto nacional de antropología e historia (INAH).
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Frazier, Lyn
    1987 Syntactic processing: Evidence from Dutch. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory5(4). 519–559. doi: 10.1007/BF00138988
    https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00138988 [Google Scholar]
  28. Friedmann, Naama & Rama Novogrodsky
    2004 The acquisition of relative clause comprehension in Hebrew: A study of SLI and normal development. Journal of Child Language31(3). 661–681. doi: 10.1017/S0305000904006269
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000904006269 [Google Scholar]
  29. Gibson, Edward
    1998 Linguistic complexity: locality of syntactic dependencies. Cognition68(1). 1–76. doi: 10.1016/S0010‑0277(98)00034‑1
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0010-0277(98)00034-1 [Google Scholar]
  30. Gordon, Peter C. & Randall Hendrick
    2005 Relativization, ergativity, and corpus frequency. Linguistic Inquiry36(3). 456–463. doi: 10.1162/0024389054396953
    https://doi.org/10.1162/0024389054396953 [Google Scholar]
  31. Grinevald, Colette
    2000 A morphosyntactic typology of classifiers. In Gunter Senft (ed.), Systems of nominal classification, 50‒92. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Gudschinsky, Sarah C.
    1959Proto-Popotecan. A comparative study of Popolocan and Mixtecan. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Publications.
    [Google Scholar]
  33. Hamp, Eric P.
    1958 Chocho-Popoloca innovations. International Journal of American Linguistics26(1). 62. doi: 10.1086/464554
    https://doi.org/10.1086/464554 [Google Scholar]
  34. Hawkins, John A.
    1999 Processing complexity and filler-gap dependencies across grammars. Language75(2). 244‒285. doi: 10.2307/417261
    https://doi.org/10.2307/417261 [Google Scholar]
  35. Hironymous, Michael
    2007Santa Maria Ixcatlan, Oaxaca: From colonial Cacicazgo to modern Municipio. Austin, TX: University of Texas PhD dissertation.
    [Google Scholar]
  36. Hsiao, Franny & Edward Gibson
    2003 Processing relative clauses in Chinese. Cognition90(1). 3–27. doi: 10.1016/S0010‑0277(03)00124‑0
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0010-0277(03)00124-0 [Google Scholar]
  37. Just, Marcel A. , Patricia A. Carpenter , Timothy A. Keller , William F. Eddy & Keith R. Thulborn
    1996 Brain activation modulated by sentence comprehension. Science274(4). 114–116. doi: 10.1126/science.274.5284.114
    https://doi.org/10.1126/science.274.5284.114 [Google Scholar]
  38. Keenan, Edward L. & Bernard Comrie
    1977 Noun phrase accessibility and universal grammar. Linguistic Inquiry8(1). 63–99.
    [Google Scholar]
  39. King, Jonathan & Marcel A. Just
    1991 Individual differences in syntactic processing: The role of working memory. Journal of Memory and Language30(5). 580–602. doi: 10.1016/0749‑596X(91)90027‑H
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0749-596X(91)90027-H [Google Scholar]
  40. King, Jonathan & Marta Kutas
    1995 Who did what and when? Using word- and clause-level ERPs to monitor working memory usage in reading. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience7(3). 376–395. doi: 10.1162/jocn.1995.7.3.376
    https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.1995.7.3.376 [Google Scholar]
  41. Krauss, Michael
    2006 Classification and terminology for degrees of languages endangerment. In Matthias Brenzinger (ed.), Language diversity endangered, 1–8. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
    [Google Scholar]
  42. Kwon, Nayoung , Yoonhyoung Lee , Peter C. Gordon , Robert Kluender & Maria Polinsky
    2010 Cognitive and linguistic factors affecting subject/object asymmetry: An eye-tracking study of pre-nominal relative clauses in Korean. Language86(3). 546–582. doi: 10.1353/lan.2010.0006
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2010.0006 [Google Scholar]
  43. Kwon, Nayoung , Robert Kluender , Marta Kutas & Maria Polinsky
    2013 Subject/object processing asymmetries in Korean relative clauses: Evidence from ERP data. Language89(3). 537–585. doi: 10.1353/lan.2013.0044
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2013.0044 [Google Scholar]
  44. Lehmann, Christian
    1984 Der Relativsatz. Typologie seiner Strukturen, Theorie seiner Funktionen, Kompendium seiner Grammatik. Tübingen: G. Narr.
    [Google Scholar]
  45. 1986 On the typology of relative clauses. Linguistics24(4). 663–680. doi: 10.1515/ling.1986.24.4.663
    https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.1986.24.4.663 [Google Scholar]
  46. MacDonald, Maryellen C.
    2013 How language production shapes language form and comprehension. Frontiers in Psychology4. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00226
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00226 [Google Scholar]
  47. MacDonald, Maryellen C. & Morten Christiansen
    2002 Reassessing working memory: Comment on Just and Carpenter (1992) and Waters and Caplan (1999). Psychological Review109(1). 35–54. doi: 10.1037/0033‑295X.109.1.35
    https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.109.1.35 [Google Scholar]
  48. MacWhinney, Brian & Csaba Pleh
    1988 The processing of restrictive relative clauses in Hungarian. Cognition29(2). 95–141. doi: 10.1016/0010‑0277(88)90034‑0
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0010-0277(88)90034-0 [Google Scholar]
  49. Malchukov, Andrej , Martin Haspelmath & Bernard Comrie
    (eds) 2010 Ditransitive constructions: a typological overview. In Andrej Malchukov , Martin Haspelmath & Bernard Comrie (eds.), Studies in ditransitive constructions: A comparative handbook, 1–64. Berlin & New York: De Gruyter.
    [Google Scholar]
  50. McCloskey, James
    1990 Resumptive pronouns, Aʹ-binding and levels of representation in Irish. In Randall Hendrick (ed.), The syntax of the modern Celtic languages, 199‒248. New York: Academic Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  51. Mecklinger, Axel , Herbert Schriefers , Karsten Steinhauer & Angela Friederici
    1995 Processing relative clauses varying on syntactic and semantic dimensions: An analysis with event-related potentials. Memory and Cognition23(4). 477–494. doi: 10.3758/BF03197249
    https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03197249 [Google Scholar]
  52. Miyamoto, Edson T. & Michiko Nakamura
    2003 Subject/object asymmetries in the processing of relative clauses in Japanese. In Gina Garding & Mimu Tsujimura (eds.), Proceedings of the 22nd West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics, 342–355. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  53. Nichols, Johanna
    1986 Head-marking and dependent-marking grammar. Language62(1). 56–119. doi: 10.1353/lan.1986.0014
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.1986.0014 [Google Scholar]
  54. Polinsky, Maria
    2008 Relative clauses in heritage Russian: Fossilization or divergent grammar?In Andrei Antonenko , John F. Bailyn & Christina Y. Bethin (eds.), Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics (FASL) 16: The Stony Brook Meeting 2007, 333–357. University of Michigan: Michigan Slavic Publications.
    [Google Scholar]
  55. Polinsky, Maria , Carlos Gomez-Gallo , Peter Graff & Ekaterina Kravtchenko
    2012 Subject preference and ergativity. Lingua122(3). 267–277. doi: 10.1016/j.lingua.2011.11.004
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2011.11.004 [Google Scholar]
  56. R Core Team
    R Core Team 2013 R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. www.R-project.org/.
  57. Reali, Florencia & Morten H. Christiansen
    2007 Processing of relative clauses is made easier by frequency of occurrence. Journal of Memory and Language57(1). 1–23. doi: 10.1016/j.jml.2006.08.014
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2006.08.014 [Google Scholar]
  58. Schwartz, Florian
    2007 Processing presupposed content. Journal of Semantics24(4). 373–416. doi: 10.1093/jos/ffm011
    https://doi.org/10.1093/jos/ffm011 [Google Scholar]
  59. Shlonsky, Ur
    1992 Resumptive pronouns as a last resort. Linguistic Inquiry23(3). 443‒448.
    [Google Scholar]
  60. Skopeteas, Stavros , Ines Fiedler , Samantha Hellmuth , Anne Schwarz , Ruben Stoel & Gisbert Fanselow
    2006Questionnaire on Information Structure. Potsdam: Audiovisuelles Zentrum der Universität Potsdam und sd:k Satz Druck GmbH Potsdam.
    [Google Scholar]
  61. Suñer, Margarita
    1998 Resumptive restrictive relatives: A cross-linguistic perspective. Language74(2). 335–364. doi: 10.1353/lan.1998.0194
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.1998.0194 [Google Scholar]
  62. Swadesh, Morris
    1960 The Oto-Manguean hypothesis and macro Mixtecan. International Journal of American Linguistics26(2). 79–111. doi: 10.1086/464560
    https://doi.org/10.1086/464560 [Google Scholar]
  63. Traxler, Matthew J. , Robin K. Morris & Rachel E. Seely
    2002 Processing subject and object relative clauses: Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Memory and Language47(1). 69–90. doi: 10.1006/jmla.2001.2836
    https://doi.org/10.1006/jmla.2001.2836 [Google Scholar]
  64. Ueno, Mieko & Susan M. Garnsey
    2008 An ERP study of the processing of subject and object relative clauses in Japanese. Language and Cognitive Processes23(5). 646–688. doi: 10.1080/01690960701653501
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01690960701653501 [Google Scholar]
  65. Vasishth, Shravan , Zhong Chen , Qiang Li & Gueilan Guo
    2013 Processing Chinese relative clauses: Evidence for the subject-relative advantage. PLoS ONE8(10). e77006. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077006.
    https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0077006 [Google Scholar]
  66. Veerman-Leichsenring, Annette
    2000 Popolocan independent personal pronouns: Comparison and reconstruction. International Journal of American Linguistics66(3). 318–359. doi: 10.1086/466428
    https://doi.org/10.1086/466428 [Google Scholar]
  67. 2001a Ixcateco: La frase nominal. Anales de Antropología35. 323–358.
    [Google Scholar]
  68. 2001b Changes in Popolocan word order and clause structure. In Jan T. Faarlund (ed.), Grammatical relations in change, 303–322. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/slcs.56.13vee
    https://doi.org/10.1075/slcs.56.13vee [Google Scholar]
  69. 2001c Coreference in the Popolocan languages. In Laurel J. Brinton (ed.), Historical linguistics 1999: Selected papers from the 14th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Vancouver, 9–13August 1999, 337–350. doi: 10.1075/cilt.215.23vee
    https://doi.org/10.1075/cilt.215.23vee [Google Scholar]
  70. Warren, Tessa & Edward Gibson
    2002 The influence of referential processing on sentence complexity. Cognition85(1). 79–112. doi: 10.1016/S0010‑0277(02)00087‑2
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0010-0277(02)00087-2 [Google Scholar]
  71. Wells, Justine , Morten Christiansen , David Race , Daniel Acheson & Maryellen C. MacDonald
    2009 Experience and sentence comprehension: Statistical learning and relative clause comprehension. Cognitive Psychology58(2). 250–271. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2008.08.002
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogpsych.2008.08.002 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): Otomanguean; relative clauses; subject preference
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error