Foregrounding of subordinate clauses by word order: Psycholinguistic evidence of the function of V>Adv (V2) word order in Danish

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In modern Danish, main clauses have the word order X > Verb > Adverb (i.e. V2) whereas subordinate clauses are generally characterized by the ”subordinate clause” word order Subject > Adverb > Verb. Spoken Danish has a high frequency of ”main clause” word order in subordinate clauses, however, and in the article we argue that this ”Main Clause Phenomena” (cf. Aelbrecht et al. 2012) functions as a foregrounding device, signaling that the more important information of the clause complex is to be found in the subordinate clause instead of in its matrix clause.

A prediction from the foregrounding hypothesis is that a subordinate clause with Verb>Adverb word order will attract more attention than a clause with Adverb>Verb word order. To test this, we conducted an experiment under the text change paradigm. 59 students each read 24 constructions twice, each containing a subordinate clause with either Verb>Adverb or Adverb>Verb word order. Half of the subordinate clauses were governed by a semifactive predicate (open to both word orders) and the other half by a semantically secondary sentence (in itself strongly favoring Verb>Adverb word order). Attention to the subordinate clause was tested by measuring how disinclined the participants were to notice change of a word in the subordinate clause when re-reading it.

Results showed significantly more attention to Verb>Adverb clauses than to Adverb>Verb clauses (though only under semifactive predicates), and more attention to subordinate clauses under semantically secondary than semifactive predicates. We consider this as strongly supporting the hypothesis that Verb>Adv word order functions as a foregrounding signal in subordinate clauses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7
Issue number1
Pages (from-to) 245–273
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Humanities - change blindness, subordinate clauses, Danish, foregrounding, word order

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