The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

MIT Colloquium 4/6: Lyn Frazier (UMass Amherst)

We are pleased to announce that Lyn Frazier will be visiting on Friday 4/6  to give a colloquium talk, details below:

Speaker: Lyn Frazier (UMass Amherst)
Title: An act apart:  Processing Not-At-Issue content
Time: Friday, April 6th, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155

This talk will examine the representation and processing of not-at-issue content (content conveyed by appositives, parentheticals and expressives).  Potts (2005) characterized not-at-issue content in a multi-dimensional semantics.  Others have proposed a unidimensional semantic account (e.g., Schlenker 2013) or a pragmatic account (e.g., Harris and Potts 2009).

We will begin by establishing a puzzle concerning processing complexity.  It is generally true that sentences that are longer or more complex are judged to be less acceptable than their shorter/simpler counterparts.  But if exactly the same material is added to either at issue content or not at issue content, there is a larger penalty, a larger drop in acceptability, if the material is added to the at issue portion of the sentence. The results of several experiments show this interaction of length/complexity and at-issue status is general. After excluding  a simple attention allocation source for the effect, we will turn to other possibilities ultimately arguing that not-at-issue content expresses a distinct speech act from that of the at issue content. Its status as a separate speech act has various ramifications including for its representation in memory and for the effects it imposes on grammatical dependencies spanning the not-at-issue content. The final part of the talk will present processing arguments concerning the nature of the relation between an appositive relative clause and its containing utterance.