ERIC Number: EJ1078670
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015-Dec
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 14
Do Null Subjects (Mis-)Trigger Pro-Drop Grammars?
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, v44 n6 p669-674 Dec 2015
Native speakers of English regularly hear sentences without overt subjects. Nevertheless, they maintain a [[superscript -]pro] grammar that requires sentences to have an overt subject. It is proposed that listeners of English recognize that speakers reduce predictable material and thus attribute null subjects to this process, rather than changing their grammars to a [[superscript +]pro] setting. Mack et al. ("J Memory Lang" 67(1):211-223, 2012) showed that sentences with noise covering the subject are analyzed as having null subjects more often with a first person pronoun and with a present tense--properties correlated with more predictable referents--compared to a third person pronoun and past tense. However, those results might in principle have been due to reporting null subjects for verbs that often occur with null subjects. An experiment is reported here in which comparable results are found for sentences containing nonsense verbs. Participants preferred a null subject more often for first person present tense sentences than for third person past tense sentences. The results are as expected if participants are responding to predictability, the likelihood of reduction, rather than to lexical statistics. The results are argued to be important in removing a class of mis-triggering examples from the language acquisition problem.
Descriptors: English, Psycholinguistics, Sentence Structure, Grammar, Morphemes, Verbs, Correlation, Form Classes (Languages), Language Research, Language Processing
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
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