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||Friday 19 September, 2014
Processing obviation in Spanish
Authors: Rocío Romero Mérida
Introduction: In some Romance languages and other languages like Icelandic or Russian, certain embedded contexts require that the matrix and the embedded subject be disjoint in reference, as shown in (1):
(1) Ronaldo se enteró de que Messi no quería que jugase. (Spanish)
Ronaldoj heard that Messii didn’t want that pro*i/j played.3sg.pst.subj.
(‘Ronaldo heard that Messi didn’t want him to play’)
In Generative Grammar this restriction was labeled ‘Obviation’ (Chomsky, 1981). Obviation occurs in very specific linguistic contexts like that in (1). In contexts like (2) there is no obviation and the matrix and the embedded subjects can freely corefer:
(2) Ronaldo se enteró de que Messi no sabía que jugase.
Ronaldoj heard that Messii didn’t know that proi/j played.3sg.pst.subj.
(‘Ronaldo heard that Messi didn’t know that he played.’)
The main question addressed in this paper is: does processing of (1) differ from (2)?
Background: According to the Primitives of Binding framework (Reuland, 2001, 2011) encoding a dependency in the syntax module by an A-chain where one of the antecedents has been blocked is “less costly” than establishing coreference when there are two possible antecedents in discourse. Supporting experimental data was shown in Koornneef (2008).
Proposal: Processing an anaphoric dependency as in (1) where one antecedent is banned is less costly, i.e. faster, than solving an anaphoric dependency in (2) where there are two competing antecedents in discourse. We also propose that obviation occurs when the main predicate is volitional but not epistemic (Kempchinsky, 2009), when there are sequence-of-tense restrictions between clauses and subjunctive mood is obligatorily used in the embedded clause. Therefore, we expect to find a difference in processing between complements to epistemic and volitional main predicates.
Methods: Two self-paced reading experiments were carried out on Zep-software (Veenker, 2012). Fifty-one native speakers of Spanish between 18-50 years old were studied.
Results: Results show that complements of volitional verbs like in (1) are often read faster than complements of epistemic verbs (2). However, the discourse bias towards one of the readings might affect processing time and thus, significant results may not show up. Moreover, results also show that the grammatical number of the antecedents affects reading times for sentences like (2), but it does not affect reading times for sentences like (1). It was shown that when the human language processor subliminally considers an antecedent that is mismatched in number with pro longer reading times are obtained, as compared to a sentence with two matching antecedents for pro that share the same number.
Conclusion: An antecedent that is allowed by grammar interferes with the reader’s processing resources, but an antecedent that is grammatically illegal does not modulate reading times.
Further research in SLA: Recent studies have shown that obviation cannot be explained throughout semantics or syntax exclusively but it is a product of the interface between these components and the discourse (Sánchez-Naranjo, 2013). In order to shed some light on the discussion about variability of L2 acquisition at the interface level (cf. Sorace 2011, White 2011), we would like to answer the following question: do L2ers of Spanish show a difference in processing between (1) and (2)? For this matter, we would like to carry out a corpus study together with a visual world paradigm online exercise.
Research in L2-acquisition of structures similar to (1) and (2) have shown that purely syntactic structures like (1), i.e. obligatory use of subjunctive embedded clauses with volitional verbs, are more easily acquired/discriminated by L2 learners (Iverson, Kempchinsky and Rothman, 2008) and heritage bilingual speakers (Montrul, 2005) compared to structures like (2) where the choice of indicative or subjunctive depends on interpretive difference.
Selected references: Chomsky, N. (1981). Lectures on Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Foris. ● Iverson, M., Kempchinsky, P. & Rothman, J. (2008). Interface Vulnerability and Knowledge of the Subjunctive/Indicative Distinction with Negated Epistemic Predicates in L2 Spanish. EUROSLA Yearbook, 8, 135-163. ● Kempchinsky, P. (2009). What can the subjunctive disjoint reference effect tell us about the subjunctive? Lingua 119, 1788-1810. ● Koornneef. A, (2008). Eye-Catching Anaphora. Utrecht: LOT Intemation Dissenation Series. ● Montrul, S. (2005). Second language acquisition and first language loss in adult early bilinguals: Exploring some differences and similarities. Second Language Research 21 (3), 199–249. ● Reuland, E. (2001). Primitives of Binding. Linguistic Inquiry, pp. 439-492. ● Reuland, E. (2011). Anaphora and Language Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT press. ● Sánchez-Naramjo, J. (2013). El efecto de referencia disjunta en español: diversas perspectivas sobre un fenómeno complejo. Lingüística y Literatura, 64, pp 13-32. ● Veenker, T.J.G. (2012). The Zep Experiment Control Application (0.16.0) [Computer software]. Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS, Utrecht University.Poster session
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