Processing of morphological and semantic cues in Russian and German

Vera Kempe*, Brian MacWhinney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


This study examines the on-line processing of morphological cues to sentence interpretation in Russian and German with the goal of evaluating the relative impacts of cue availability and cue reliability. Both Russian and German use the cues of word order, animacy, case-marking, and subject-verb agreement to identify the agent of active transitive sentences. However, the availability of the case-marking cue is higher in Russian than in German. Using a picture-choice paradigm, we contrasted case-marking and animacy in Russian and German. The reaction times showed larger effects of case-marking in Russian than in German and effects of animacy in German, but not in Russian. These results suggest that the higher the availability of a cue, the larger the processing benefits associated with the presence of this cue and the smaller the impact of other converging information. A recurrent cascaded backpropagation network was designed to simulate these effects. The network succeeded in capturing the essential language differences in the reaction times, thereby illustrating how the statistical properties of cues in a language can affect the time-course of activation of alternative interpretations during sentence processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-171
Number of pages43
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1999


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