Inverse Case attraction: experimental evidence for a syntactically guided process

  • Anna CzypionkaEmail author
  • Laura Dörre
  • Josef Bayer
Original Paper


In progressive Case attraction, the Case of a head nominal overwrites the Case of a following coindexed relative pronoun. The reverse process is called ‘inverse’ Case attraction. There, the morphologically overt Case of a relative pronoun overwrites the Case of a preceding head nominal. Inverse Case attraction has been attested in languages like Ancient Greek, Latin, and in the history of different Germanic languages. For modern standard German, its existence has in general been denied. We first discuss current analyses which have nevertheless identified inverse Case attraction in modern German on the basis of historical data and experimental judgement studies. We then present four behavioral experiments on the processing of German sentences. Effects of inverse Case attraction in the comprehension of German are revealed in self-paced reading times. They are fundamentally different in structures allowing attraction of dative Case than in structures allowing attraction of accusative Case, with much stronger effects for dative than for accusative Case. The results are interpreted in a theory of Case that draws a syntactic difference between structural and inherent (‘lexical’) Case rather than along the lines of the familiar Case hierarchy.


Case Inverse Case attraction Dative German Self-paced reading 


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We gratefully acknowledge clarifying communications with Alex Grosu and Martin Salzmann and the assistance of Christina Gozebina, Marc Meisezahl and Thi Xuan Mai Truongh during data acquisition. The comments by three anonymous reviewers were highly relevant for the improvement of this article. Laura Dörre received funding via a Ph.D. Grant by the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of KonstanzConstanceGermany
  2. 2.Center for Experimental Research on Natural LanguageUniversity of WrocławWrocławPoland

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