Attachment Preference in Auditory German Sentences: Individual Differences and Pragmatic Strategy

Eleanor E. Harding, Daniela Sammler, Sonja A. Kotz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Web of Science)


Relative clauses modify a preceding element, but as this element can be flexibly located, the point of attachment is sometimes ambiguous. Preference for this attachment can vary within languages such as German, yet explanations for differences in attachment preference related to cognitive strategies or constraints have been conflicting in the current literature. The present study aimed to assess the preference for relative clause attachment among German listeners and whether these preferences could be explained by strategy or individual differences in working memory or musical rhythm ability. We performed a sentence completion experiment, conducted post hoc interviews, and measured working memory and rhythm abilities with diagnostic tests. German listeners had no homogeneous attachment preference, although participants consistently completed individual sentences across trials according to the general preference that they reported offline. Differences in attachment preference were moreover not linked to individual differences in either working memory or musical rhythm ability. However, the pragmatic content of individual sentences sometimes overrode the general syntactic preference in participants with lower rhythm ability. Our study makes an important contribution to the field of psycholinguistics by validating offline self-reports as a reliable diagnostic for an individual's online relative clause attachment preference. The link between pragmatic strategy and rhythm ability is an interesting direction for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1357
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2019


  • attachment preference
  • individual differences
  • pragmatics
  • musical ability
  • working memory
  • syntax

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