'Meaning and missteps in processing long-distance dependencies'
Dustin A. Chacón, Ph.D., Contract Assistant Professor, Institute of Linguistics, University of Minnesota
Dustin's research spans comparative syntax, psycholinguistics, and language acquisition. He earned his Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Maryland in 2015. Since 2016, he has been Contract Assistant Professor of Linguistics and a faculty affiliate of the Center for Cognitive Sciences at the University of Minnesota, where he completed his BA in Linguistics in 2010.
A brief abstract for the talk is below. We hope to see many of you there!
In order to process a sentence like 'Which apple did Ernie eat __?', the filler NP 'which apple' must be stored in memory at the beginning of the sentence and retrieved at the gap site after the verb 'eat'. Many results suggest that comprehenders nimbly and rapidly use fine-grained syntactic knowledge to guide this process. Despite significant attention paid to the processing of filler-gap dependencies, little is known about the mechanisms involved. In this talk, I examine two cases where filler-gap dependency processing misfires. I argue that long-distance dependency processing relies on an active syntactic prediction process, and that comprehenders rely on conceptual semantic information to relate fillers and gaps when typical processing fails. I contrast these findings with processing of auxiliary-verb relations in yes-no questions (i.e., the relation between has and eaten in Has the cat eaten apples?), which reveal a messier profile. I argue that the difference between these two formally-similar dependencies derives from the semantic nature of the dependencies -- filler-gap dependencies are crucial for recovering the meaning of the sentence, whereas auxiliary-verb relations are formal grammatical requirements only.