The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 4/8 - Annie Gagliardi

Speaker: Annie Gagliardi (Harvard)
Title: Reconciling two kinds of subject-object asymmetries
Date/Time: Tuesday, Apr 8, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

Built into the grammatical architecture of any language we find constraints on possible structures. The processing system that uses these structures appears to have inherent preferences in how we interpret them. By looking at a domain where there exists tension between what constraints a learner might expect their language to conform to and the interpretations that are easier to arrive at, we can learn more about what a learner’s own abilities and expectations contribute to language acquisition. In this talk we look at one case where grammatical constraints pull in the opposite direction of the preferences of the system using those constraints: A-bar extraction of transitive subjects. In particular, we look at the comprehension of relative clauses by children and adults in Q’anjob’al, Mayan language where extraction of ergative marked subjects is reportedly banned. Results of a comprehension experiment with adults and children suggest that this tension does affect language acquisition, and may effect language change.