You are here: Home Publications Predicting head-marking variability in Yucatec Maya relative clause production

Predicting head-marking variability in Yucatec Maya relative clause production

Norcliffe, E., & Jaeger, T. F. (2016). Predicting head-marking variability in Yucatec Maya relative clause production. Language and Cognition, 8(2), 167-205. doi:10.1017/langcog.2014.39.
Recent proposals hold that the cognitive systems underlying language production exhibit computational properties that facilitate communicative efficiency, i.e., an efficient trade-off between production ease and robust information transmission. We contribute to the cross-linguistic evaluation of the communicative efficiency hypothesis by investigating speakers’ preferences in the production of a typologically rare head-marking alternation that occurs in relative clause constructions in Yucatec Maya. In a sentence recall study, we find that speakers of Yucatec Maya prefer to use reduced forms of relative clause verbs when the relative clause is more contextually expected. This result is consistent with communicative efficiency and thus supports its typological generalizability. We compare two types of cue to the presence of a relative clause, pragmatic cues previously investigated in other languages and a highly predictive morphosyntactic cue specific to Yucatec. We find that Yucatec speakers’ preferences for a reduced verb form are primarily conditioned on the more informative cue. This demonstrates the role of both general principles of language production and their language-specific realizations.
About MPI

This is the MPI

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.


Street address
Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Mailing address
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Phone:   +31-24-3521911
Fax:        +31-24-3521213

Public Outreach Officer
Charlotte Horn