May 6 – Matt Wagers

Monday, May 6th at 2 PM in AP&M 4301. Matt Wagers (U.C. Santa Cruz) will be presenting.

Grammatical prediction in Chamorro: WH agreement and real-time dependency formation

 In this talk, I will discuss some recent sentence comprehension studies in Chamorro*, an Austronesian language of the Mariana Islands. Real-time studies of small languages, and languages outside of Europe and East Asia – like Chamorro – have played an essentially negligible role in psycholinguistics, for reasons practical but not scientific. In the case of Chamorro, the interaction of its rich agreement system, its flexible word order, and its principles for aligning syntactic and semantic roles make it a very attractive language for investigating core ideas in language processing. In two studies, we have leveraged these grammatical features to ask how comprehenders make predictions about upcoming linguistic material to interpret WH (filler-gap) dependencies.

Chamorro is of particular interest to the comprehension of filler-gap dependencies because it provides morphological cues to the gap site via its system of WH Agreement (Chung, 1982, 1998). In the first study, we examined the real-time comprehension of WH Agreement inflected extractions, drawing upon two experiments – self-paced listening and a variant of preferential looking. Based on the detection of semantic anomalies, we find that the presence of WH agreement morphology plays a strongly facilitative role in the interpretation of filler-gap dependencies. Based on patterns of reanalysis, we find that in the absence of (optional) WH agreement morphology, gaps may be projected but not synchronously interpreted. Additionally, as a side effect of our experimental design, we document an age-correlated decline in the availability of possessor extraction among Chamorro speakers.

The timecourse of comprehension in Chamorro highlights two important questions for psycholinguistic models: why might highly favored continuations sometimes be ignored? And what is the relationship between syntactic prediction and semantic interpretation? In the second part of the talk, I will discuss a second study on the person-animacy hierarchy which addresses these questions: in transitive clauses, and certain possessor extractions, only some combinations of subject and object (or possessor of object) are allowed, depending on person/animacy features. These constraints allows us to directly compare the influence of two sources of prediction in comprehension: (1) the space of possible continuations; and (2) the presence of unlicensed grammatical features.

*This project represents joint work with Sandra Chung (UC Santa Cruz) & Manuel F. Borja (Inetnon Åmot yan Kutturan Natibu, CNMI)