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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

LingLunch - Stephen R. Foley: Prominence scales guide incremental sentence comprehension in Georgian

When: Wednesday, May 26, 2021, 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Where: Online:

Speaker: Stephen R. Foley

We have the pleasure to welcome Stephen R. Foley (Princeton University) who will give the follow talk:


Prominence scales guide incremental sentence comprehension in Georgian

Theories of linguistic knowledge sometimes invoke prominence scales rooted in features like animacy (animate > inanimate; where “>” means “outranks in prominence”) and grammatical role (subject > indirect object > direct object) to explain a wide range of grammatical phenomena (e.g. Silverstein 1976, Aissen 1999). Such prominence scales have been argued to be relevant to psycholinguistic theories, as in eADM (Bornkessel–Schlesewsky & Schlesewsky 2009), but open questions remain about the exact mechanisms which directly reference these scales in online processing. The present study aims to test the role prominence plays in incremental sentence comprehension by examining Georgian, a language whose flexible word order and split-ergative case system makes it an especially good testing ground. In two self-paced reading experiments, observed reading-time disruption patterns indicate that the parser navigates temporary ambiguities that stem from case morphology by harmonically aligning the scales for animacy and grammatical role. Specifically, a highly animate noun is initially mapped to the most prominent role compatible with the noun’s case; an inanimate noun to the least prominent role. However, the precise effects suggest that online comprehenders have fine-grained but not unlimited access to their grammatical knowledge, as certain grammatical but relatively rare parses do not seem to be countenanced.

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