The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 3/6 - Ted Gibson

Speaker: Ted Gibson
Title: A pragmatic account of complexity in definite Antecedent-Contained-Deletion relative clauses
Date/Time: Thursday, Mar 6, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

(Joint work with Pauline Jacobson, Peter Graff, Kyle Mahowald, Evelina Fedorenko, and Steven T. Piantadosi.)

Hackl, Koster-Hale & Varvoutis (2012; HKV) provide data that suggest that in a null context, antecedent-contained-deletion (ACD) relative clause structures modifying a quantified object noun phrase (NP; such as every doctor) are easier to process than those modifying a definite object NP (such as the doctor). HKV argue that this pattern of results supports a “quantifier-raising” (QR) analysis of both ACD structures and quantified NPs in object position: under the account they advocate, both ACD resolution and quantified NPs in object position require movement of the object NP to a higher syntactic position. The processing advantage for quantified object NPs in ACD is hypothesized to derive from the fact that – at the point where ACD resolution must take place – the quantified NP has already undergone QR whereas this is not the case for definite NPs. Although in other work it is shown that HKV’s reading time analyses are flawed, such that the critical effects are not significant (Gibson, Mahowald & Piantadosi, submitted), the effect in HKV’s acceptability rating is robust. But HKV’s interpretation is problematic. We present five experiments that provide evidence for an alternative, pragmatic, explanation for HKV’s observation. In particular, we argue that the low acceptability of the the / ACD condition is largely due to a strong pressure in the null context to use a competing form, by adding also or same. This pressure does not exist with quantified NPs either because the competing form is absent (*every same) or because the addition of also actually degrades the sentence. In support of this interpretation, we show that the difference between the the / ACD and every / ACD conditions (a) persists even when the relative clause contains no ellipsis and thus nothing is forcing QR; (b) disappears when either also or same is added; and (c) disappears in supportive contexts. Together, these findings show that HKV’s QR hypothesis should be rejected in favor of a pragmatic account.