Relevance and L2 Learners’ Interpretation of Reflexive Anaphora in VP-Ellipsis: An Exploration of the Relationship between Relevance Theory and Typological Universals

Hongguang Ying 1
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1University of Colorado

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


Twenty-eight intermediate and twenty-two advanced L2 learners (the experimental groups) and twenty native speakers of English (the control group) participated in a study that investigated second language learners’ interpretation of reflexives in the VP-elliptical sentences. 17 experimental sentences in a null context, 17 experimental sentences followed by a referential context favoring the “strict” reading interpretation, 17 experimental sentences followed by a non-referential context not favoring the “strict” reading interpretation, and 51 filler items were presented to the participants using a judgment task in which each sentence is followed by two alternative interpretations (Frazier & Cliffton, 2000). The results indicate that adult L2 learners’ interpretation of such construction in English was constrained by the minimal processing cost and contextual effects of RT. They interpreted the reflexive in a null context “sloppily”, indicating the constraints of the minimal processing cost of RT. The contextual effects of RT were shown in their “strict” reading of the reflexive in a referential context. The relationship of relevance theory and typological universals in terms of context, constraints, economy and cognitive considerations is also discussed.

Keywords: Relevance Theory; reflexive anaphora; VP-ellipsis; typological universals



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