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Ling Fridays: Dillon on comprehension and production

February 17 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Principle B: The view from comprehension and production

Linguistics Fridays Colloquia talk

Brian Dillon, University of Massachussetts

Experimental research has shown that the grammatical constraints reflected in (e.g.) the Binding Theory guide real-time pronoun interpretation, albeit perhaps in a defeasible fashion. Evidence for this conclusion comes from a range of experimental evidence that comprehenders selectively activate grammatically accessible antecedents when processing pronouns and anaphors. But what are the mechanisms by which comprehenders arrive at these grammatically constrained interpretations? And what is the relationship that these mechanisms bear to offline grammatical knowledge and language production?

In this talk I will explore these questions by investigating the nature of the constraints that prevent an object pronoun from coreferring with its local subject in sentences such as “John likes him”, presenting studies from our lab on the source of these ‘Principle B effects’ in comprehension and production. In a series of visual world eye-tracking experiments in English, we show that comprehenders incrementally predict disjoint reference between the subject and the object before having any bottom-up evidence of the morphological form the object will take. This finding is consistent with the view that transitive predicates canonically implicate distinct entities for the subject and object roles, that and deviations from this should be somehow ‘marked’ (e.g. Reuland, 2017). In a series of comprehension and production studies in English, we explore the claim that this constraint can be lifted in discourse contexts where the meaning of a locally coreferent pronoun can be distinguished from the meaning of a locally coreferent reflexive (e.g. Evans, 1980, et seq.). We find only a limited sensitivity to discourse context. Instead, comprehenders and producers systematically avoid coreference between a pronoun and its local subject, even in supportive discourse environments. Overall, our studies lend support to theories of Principle B effects that emphasize the markedness of local coreference as a key driver of Principle B effects; In contrast, we see only limited support for theories that emphasize distinctiveness of meaning in context.


(Email rashields@wisc.edu for the link)




February 17
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
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