Object attraction and the role of structural hierarchy: Evidence from Persian

Julie Franck, Farhad Mirdamadi and Arsalan Kahnemuyipour
(2020). Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 5(1), 27.

Research on subject-verb agreement production in SVO languages has shown that objects moved pre-verbally sometimes trigger ‘attraction’, i.e., erroneous agreement of the verb with the object rather than the subject. Moreover, objects c-commanding one of the agreement positions in the hierarchical structure were found to generate stronger attraction than those linearly preceding them. Evidence for the role of c-command comes from the observation that the accusative clitic in French triggers stronger attraction than the preverbal dative pronoun and the PP modifier (Franck et al. 2006; 2010). In this study, we report the results of an experiment in Persian (an SOV language) in which subject–verb agreement was elicited by presenting sentences in Rapid Serial Visual Presentation procedure (RSVP) followed by verb selection (Staub 2009; 2010). We compared attraction errors induced by pre-verbal accusatives versus datives in the canonical SOV word order as well as the OSV word order. Corroborating Franck et al. (2006; 2010), we found stronger attraction when the pre-verbal object occupies a c-commanding position in the hierarchical structure than when it simply precedes one of the agreement positions in the linear string. We also found stronger attraction in the OSV word order as compared to the canonical SOV word order. This finding is attributed to the real-time processes of erroneous structure building and/or erroneous controller selection during subject-verb agreement computation.