Producing case errors in Russian
Number agreement attraction (AA) has been subject to scrutiny during the last decades. Among other things, experimental studies revealed the asymmetry of the error patterns (only the plural feature on the attractor could elicit a significant number of errors) and similar attraction effects in production and comprehension. Proposed explanations fall into two main groups (a) errors due to feature percolation; (b) errors during the cue-based retrieval.
We report a production experiment studying case AA errors in Russian (such errors also occur naturally). In every trial, the task was to listen to the beginning of a sentence, to repeat it and to complete it using the words on the screen, one of which, a noun, required modification for the case agreement. (2a) illustrates what participants heard and then saw on the screen, (2b) gives an example of possible answers (correct and with an AA error). The attractor is a syncretic adjective form (Gen.Pl = Loc.Pl) modifying the noun. We manipulated the case required on the noun (Gen/Loc) and the linear distance from the preposition (close and distant conditions are illustrated by (2) and (3)), using the 2*2 square design with 10 stimuli per condition. 80 fillers were added. 1000 target sentences were elicited (250 per condition). Gen forms were produced instead of Loc forms, as in (2b), but the opposite never happended. No other (non-AA) errors were elicited. The total number of AA errors was 43, the difference between Gen and Loc conditions is significant according to the χ² test (χ²=34.8, p<0.001). There were significantly more errors in the distant Loc condition than in the close one (40 vs. 3, χ²=44.9, p<0.001).
The Gen/Loc asymmetry cannot be explained by defaultness/markedness. We propose to use the theory of directional syncretism, as it postulates a hierarchical structure of the case system, unlike other models of feature syncretism. According to it, the Gen.Pl value does not have its own form in the Russian case system and is defined through a reference to the Loc.Pl value. This can be compared to the defaultness/markedness effects in number AA, leading to inequality of feature values.