Explorations in Diagnosing Competence and Performance Factors in Linguistic Inquiry
MetadataShow full item record
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.