Rebels without a clause: Processing reflexives in fronted wh-predicates

Akira Omaki, Zoe Ovans, Anthony Yacovone, Brian Dillon

English reflexives like herself tend to associate with a structurally prominent local antecedent in online processing. However, past work has primarily investigated reflexives in canonical direct object positions. The present study investigates cataphoric reflexives in fronted wh-predicates (e.g., The mechanic that James hired predicted how annoyed with himself the insurance agent would be). Here, the reflexive is encountered in advance of its grammatical antecedent. We ask two questions. First, will readers engage an anaphoric (backwards-looking) or cataphoric (forwards-looking) search for an antecedent? Two, how similar is this process to the retrieval process for direct object reflexives? In two eye-tracking experiments, we found that readers initially interpret a cataphoric reflexive anaphorically, and tend to associate the reflexive with the more recently encountered antecedent. We propose that structural guidance for reflexive resolution occurs only when the necessary configurational syntactic information is available when the reflexive is encountered.