Locality, Cyclicity and Resumption: At the Interface between the Grammar and the Human Sentence Processor

Theodora Alexopoulou, Frank Keller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We present an experimental investigation of the role of resumptive pronouns. We
investigate object extraction in wh-questions for a range of syntactic configurations (non-islands, weak islands, strong islands) and for multiple levels of embedding (single, double, and triple). In order to establish the crosslinguistic properties of resumption, parallel experiments are conducted in three languages, viz. English, Greek, and German. Three main experimental results are reported. First, resumption does not remedy island violations:
resumptive pronominals are at most as acceptable as gaps, but not more acceptable. This result disconfirms claims in the literature that resumptives can ‘save’ island violations. Second, embedding reduces acceptability even in extraction out of non-islands and declaratives, structures standardly assumed as fully grammatical. Third, non-islands and weak islands pattern together, and contrast with strong islands, in terms of the effect of resumption and
embedding. Our experimental findings show a remarkable consistency across the three languages we investigate; crosslinguistic variation appears confined to quantitative differences in crosslinguistically identical principles. We argue that these experimental results can be explained by the interaction of grammatical principles with resource limitations of the human parser. In particular, extraction from non-islands and weak islands imposes increased demands on the computational resources of the parser. We extend Gibson’s (1998) Syntactic Prediction Locality Theory in order to formalize this intuition and account for the processing complexity of A-bar dependencies.*
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-160
Number of pages93
JournalLanguage
Volume83
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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