The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Colloquium 4/24 - Ming Xiang

Speaker: Ming Xiang (University of Chicago)
Title: Parsing covert dependencies—the case of Mandarin wh-in-situ constructions
Date: Friday, April 24th
Time: 3:30-5:00p
Place: 32-141

While modeling cross-linguistic structural variations, linguistic analyses sometimes postulate abstract “covert” representations that do not have any morpho-phonological reflexes in the surface word string. Little is known as to whether and how such representations are constructed in language comprehension and production. In this talk, I will examine the processing of Mandarin wh-in-situ questions. Drawing on data from production, eyetracking-reading, and the speed-accuracy tradeoff paradigm, I will address two questions: (i) Does the parser construct a covert non-local syntactic dependency in processing? (ii) What is the parsing mechanism that supports such non-local dependencies? In particular, how is a “silent” scope position retrieved from memory? The current data suggests that the parser indeed constructs a covert dependency in real time processing, but the retrieval of the scope position is supported by two distinct (maybe simultaneous) mechanisms: one that relies on associative cue-based memory retrieval, and the other (cyclically) searches through intermediate clause edge positions.