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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

Randolph Quirk Fellow 2021 - Why Some Well-Formed English Sentences are Impossible for Your Brain to Process - Prof. Janet D. Fodor

When: Thursday, May 20, 2021, 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Where: Online

Our department extends a warm welcome to our 2021 Randolph Quirk Fellow, Distinguished Professor Janet Dean Fodor (CUNY Graduate Center). Professor Fodor will deliver a public lecture with the details below.

A ‘doubly center-embedded sentence’ has a clause inside a clause inside a main clause. Such sentences are grammatically well-formed but are rarely uttered. When they are, they sound strange and are difficult to understand. Example: The pipes that the plumber that my dad trained fixed leaked. The same meaning with a different structure is easy enough: The plumber that my dad trained fixed the pipes that leaked. Linguists have made brave attempts over 50 years to explain this. At CUNY we have discovered that the problem is rhythmic. With different phrase lengths and a different rhythm, the doubly center-embedding structure is no longer a problem: The rusty old pipes that the plumber my dad trained fixed continue to leak occasionally. This works even with silent reading. The question is why.


The lecture will be given on Zoom, accessible via a link emailed in advance to registered attendees.

Fodor - Public lecture SLIDES [PDF 13,593KB]

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