Linguistics Theses and Dissertations

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    (1992) Wu, Daoping; Hornstein, Norbert; Linguistics; University of Maryland (College Park, Md); Digital Repository at the University of Maryland
    The term serial verb construction (SVC) refers to a construction in which more than one verb are not connected by any lexical device such as conjunction and punctuation, etc.. This construction is quite popular in Chinese, Caribbean creoles, West African languages, and Dravidian languages. Structurally, the SVCs may be compounds, clauses or phrases. The clausal SVCs have been attested in all the serialized languages. The compound SVcs are reported in Chinese and Edo. Only a few instances of phrasal SVCs have been found in Dravidian languages. The compound SVCs in Chinese can consist of two verbs or a verb plus an adjective. The productive compound can only have the following structures: V trans. +V intrans., V trans + A and V intrans. + A. Among the three compounds, the head of the compound must link to both the external and the internal arguments when it is transitive. The nonhead adjective can link to either the external argument or the internal argument, while the nonhead verb can only link to the internal argument, and in most cases, the intransitive verb must be unaccusative. Feature Percolation Convention and the Case requirements generate all the grammatical compound SVCs and rule out all the ungrammatical ones. These rules also can well account for the differences between the VV compound and the VA compound. This conforms to what the Feature Percolation Convention and the Case requirement predict. It is suggested that the syntactic SVCs under discussion are clausal because of facts concerning their binding properties. This analysis is first proposed by Bickerton & Iatridou(1989) in their study of the Caribbean creoles. With this analysis, if the first verb in an SVC is in the matrix clause, the second verb is in an adjunct clause attached to the V' position of the matrix clause. This analysis obtains support from Chinese. In this respect, the only difference between Chinese and the Caribbean creoles is that the adjunct clause has two adjoining positions. Furthermore it is proposed in this thesis that the adjunct clause is a CP rather than an IP.
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    Island Constraints: What is there for children to learn?
    (2022) Hirzel, Mina; Lidz, Jeffrey; Lau, Ellen; Linguistics; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation presents behavioral studies that target the early syntactic representations of wh-movement during infancy and early childhood. Previous studies show that by 20 months-old, infants represent wh-movement and use this knowledge to respond to wh-questions during language comprehension tasks (Gagliardi 2012; Gagliardi et al., 2016; Seidl et al., 2003). Studies probing the nature of early representations of wh-movement show that by around 4 years-old, children represent island constraints (e.g., de Villiers et al., 1990; de Villiers & Roeper, 1995a, 1995b; Fetters & Lidz, 2016; Goodluck et al., 1992). It remains unclear how knowledge of wh-movement develops. What is the source of this ‘empirical gap’ between the onset of knowledge of wh- movement, and the observation that children respect island constraints? One possibility is that knowledge of island constraints is a component of Universal Grammar (e.g., Chomsky 1965, 1986; Hornstein & Lightfoot 1981). In this case, the ‘empirical gap’ in the linguistic abilities of infants compared to young children isn’t indicative of their linguistic knowledge, but rather the difficulties with testing infants and toddlers on complex syntax. Another possibility is that knowledge of island constraints is acquired via experience (e.g., Pearl & Sprouse, 2013). In this case, the ‘empirical gap’ reflects a knowledge gap, and there’s no evidence for knowledge of island constraints during infancy because it has yet to be acquired. Experiment 1 shows that by 19 months-old, infants have knowledge of wh-movement, and use this knowledge during language comprehension. Results are consistent with recent work which shows that 18 month-olds, but not 17 month-olds, know that wh-phrases co-occur with gap positions in wh-object questions (Perkins & Lidz, 2021). Experiment 2 shows that 3 year-olds respect locality constraints on wh-movement in wh- questions, and Experiment 3 shows that adults behave as expected on this task. Experiments 4 and 5 test children and adults on locality constraints on wh- movement in relative clauses, but these results are inconclusive (likely due to difficulties with moving the task online). The results of Experiment 3 raises challenges for learning hypotheses of island constraints which emphasize the role of linguistic experience. Learning models which propose that linguistic experience is the key factor in the acquisition of island constraints must consider these behavioral results when estimating the amount of data that the learner needs to solve the acquisition problem. These behavioral results are consistent with the hypothesis that knowledge of island constraints is innate, but further work is needed to close the ‘empirical gap’ between the onset of knowledge of wh- movement and the onset of knowledge of island constraints.
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    What could go wrong? Linguistic illusions and incremental interpretation
    (2022) Muller, Hanna; Phillips, Colin; Linguistics; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    The systems underlying incremental sentence comprehension are, in general, highly successful - comprehenders typically understand sentences of their native language quickly and accurately. The occasional failure of the system to deliver an appropriate representation of a sentence is therefore potentially illuminating. There are many ways the comprehender's general success could in principle be accomplished; the systematic pattern of failures places some constraints on the possible algorithms. This dissertation explores two cases of systematic failure, negative polarity illusions and substitution illusions (sometimes called "Moses illusions") with the goal of identifying the specific circumstances under which the illusion arises, and, as a consequence, the specific constraints placed on possible implementations of linguistic knowledge. In the first part of this dissertation, I explore the profile of the negative polarity illusion, a case in which a sentence containing an unlicensed negative polarity item and a preceding, but not structurally-relevant licensor is perceived as if it is acceptable, at least in early stages of processing. I consider various proposals for the grammatical knowledge that determines the restricted distribution of negative polarity items, and possible algorithms for using that grammatical knowledge in real time to process a sentence containing a negative polarity item. I also discuss possible parallels between negative polarity illusions and superficially-similar illusory phenomena in other domains, such as subject-verb agreement. Across sixteen experiments, I show that the profile of the illusion is more restricted than previously thought. Illusions do not always arise when an unlicensed negative polarity item is preceded by a structurally-irrelevant licensor, and the circumstances under which they do arise are quite specific. These findings suggest that the negative polarity illusion may be meaningfully distinct from other illusory phenomena, though this conclusion does not necessarily require stipulating a separate mechanism for every illusion. I discuss the implications of these findings for possible real-time implementations of grammatical knowledge. In the second part of this dissertation, I turn to the substitution illusion, a case in which a word in a trivia fact is swapped out for another word, making the sentence a world knowledge violation, but comprehenders do not consciously detect the anomalous nature of the sentence. Here I attempt to develop specific and testable hypotheses about the source of the illusion, paying particular attention to how the same mechanism that "fails" in illusion sentences (in that it does not allow the comprehender to detect the anomaly) serves the comprehender well in other circumstances. I demonstrate that the substitution illusion, like the negative polarity illusion, is more restricted than previously thought - some stimuli yield very high illusion rates while others yield very low illusion rates, and this variability appears to be non-random. In seven experiments, I pursue both a correlational approach and an experimental manipulation of illusion rates, in order to narrow the space of possible explanations for the illusion. These investigations collectively demonstrate that occasional errors in comprehension do not necessarily reflect the use of "shortcuts" in sentence processing, and can be explained by the interaction of the linguistic system with non-linguistic components of the cognitive architecture, such as memory and attention. While neither illusion phenomenon is ultimately fully explained, the research presented here constitutes an important step forward in our understanding of both domains and their broader implications.
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    Are you asking me or telling me? Learning clause types and speech acts in English and Mandarin
    (2022) Yang, Yu'an; Hacquard, Valentine; Lidz, Jeffrey; Linguistics; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Languages tend to have three major clause types (declaratives, interrogatives, imperatives), dedicated to three main speech acts (assertions, questions, commands). However, the particular forms that these clause types take differ from language to language, and have to be learned. Previous experimental results suggest that by 18 months old, children differentiate these clause types and associate them with their canonical speech act. This dissertation investigates how children learn to identify different clause types and speech acts. To learn clause types, children need to identify the right categories of clauses (the "clustering problem") and figure out what speech act they are canonically used for (the "labeling problem"). I investigate the extent to which learners need to rely on pragmatic information (i.e., knowing what speech act a given utterance of a sentence is conveying), to solve not just labeling, but the clustering itself. I examine the role of pragmatics computationally by building two Bayesian clustering models. I find that morpho-syntactic and prosodic information are not enough for identifying the right clause type clustering, and that pragmatics is necessary. I applied the same model to a morphological impoverished language, Mandarin, and found that the model without pragmatics performs even worse. Speech act information is crucial for finding the right categories for both languages. Additionally, I find that a little pragmatics goes a long way. I simulate the learning process with noisy speech act information, and find that even when speech act information is noisy, the model hones in on the right clause type categories, when the model without fails. But if speech act information is useful for clause type learning, how do children figure out speech act information? I explore what kind of non-clause type cues for speech act information are present in the input. Even if children must rely on clause type information to figure out speech acts, they could have access to additional information that is unrelated to clause typing, but informative for recognizing speech act type. When speakers perform speech acts, because of the conventional functions of these speech acts on the discourse, the performance might be associated with certain socio-pragmatic features. For example, because of questions' response-elicitation function, we might expect speakers to pause longer after questions. If children are equipped with some expectations about the functions of communication, and about what questions do, they might be able to use these socio-pragmatic cues to figure out speech act. I explore two cues that could potentially differentiate questions from other speech acts: pauses, and direct eye gaze. I find that parents tend to pause longer after questions, and attend to the child more when asking questions. Therefore it is in principle plausible that there are some socio-pragmatic features that children can use, in addition to their growing knowledge of clause types to infer the speech act category of an utterance. This little bit of information about speech act could then be used to provide the information that the child needs in order to get the clause type clusters identified accurately.
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    Explorations in Diagnosing Competence and Performance Factors in Linguistic Inquiry
    (2022) Liter, Adam; Lidz, Jeffrey; Hornstein, Norbert; Linguistics; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation presents a series of case studies concerned with whether the signal in a given set of measurements that we take in the course of linguistic inquiry reflects grammatical competence or performance factors. We know that performance and competence do not always covary, yet it is not uncommon to assume that measurements that we take of linguistic performance do transparently reflect the underlying grammatical competence that is the target of inquiry. This has been a very useful and fruitful assumption in the vast majority of cases. Nonetheless, there are certain cases where more careful consideration of the linking hypothesis between the underlying competence of interest and the measurements of linguistic behavior (i.e., performance) that one takes might be warranted. This dissertation presents three case studies that try to model such consideration. How performance and competence might interact is highly dependent on the phenomenon being investigated as well as the method being used to investigate it, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to these kinds of considerations. The goal of this dissertation is to model such consideration and to encourage more of it. In Chapter 2, we investigate English-acquiring children’s non-adult-like productions of medial wh-phrases. On the basis of experimental data showing a correlation between an independent measure of cognitive inhibition and the production of such examples, we will argue that the best explanation of these productions is that children fail to inhibit the pronunciation of the wh-copy at the intermediate clause boundary due to an underdeveloped executive function and that children do have the target adult-like English grammar with respect to the formation of wh-dependencies (contra, e.g., Thornton 1990, McDaniel, Chiu, & Maxfield 1995, de Villiers, de Villiers, & Roeper 2011). Then, in Chapter 4, we investigate the status of island violations under sluicing (i.e., TP ellipsis). Sluicing apparently improves the acceptability of island violations contained inside the ellipsis site (see, e.g., Ross 1969). Whether we should understood this improved acceptability as indicative of such examples being grammatical is an open question (cf. Ross 1969, Chomsky 1972, Lasnik 2001, Fox & Lasnik 2003, Merchant 2005, 2008b, 2009, Temmerman 2013, Griffiths & Lipták 2014, Barros 2014a, Barros, Elliott, & Thoms 2014, 2015). We investigate the status of such examples with several 2 × 2 experiments, an experimental paradigm discussed in detail in Chapter 3. The idea of the experimental design is to use differences between acceptability ratings and subtraction logic afforded by the linking hypothesis between acceptability and grammaticality to try to more directly get at grammaticality. Our results from this chapter are ultimately somewhat inconclusive, but for potentially methodologically informative reasons. Finally, in Chapter 5, we use the same kind of experimental paradigm to investigate the status of Bulgarian examples with multiple wh-dependencies, where one of the wh-dependencies crosses an island and the other does not. Bulgarian is a language with multiple fronting of wh-elements, and it has been observed that examples where one of the wh-dependencies spans an island but not the other are improved in acceptability (see, e.g., Richards 1997, 1998, 2001). Such examples have thus been taken to be grammatical, though they do still exhibit some degree of unacceptability. We use the same sort of experimental paradigm to try to ascertain the grammaticality status of these examples. We find evidence that such examples are indeed grammatical, which reaffirms the importance of ensuring our syntactic theories can account for such examples.