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LINGUIST List 22.3772

Tue Sep 27 2011

Diss: Psycholing/Socioling: Squires: 'Sociolinguistic Priming and ...'

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        1.     Lauren Squires , Sociolinguistic Priming and the Perception of Agreement Variation: Testing predictions of exemplar-theoretic grammar

Message 1: Sociolinguistic Priming and the Perception of Agreement Variation: Testing predictions of exemplar-theoretic grammar
Date: 20-Sep-2011
From: Lauren Squires <squiresluncw.edu>
Subject: Sociolinguistic Priming and the Perception of Agreement Variation: Testing predictions of exemplar-theoretic grammar
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Institution: University of Michigan
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2011

Author: Lauren Squires

Dissertation Title: Sociolinguistic Priming and the Perception of Agreement
Variation: Testing predictions of exemplar-theoretic grammar

Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Psycholinguistics
Sociolinguistics

Subject Language(s): English (eng)


Dissertation Director(s):
Robin Queen
Julie E. Boland

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation investigates the sociolinguistic perception of morphosyntactic
variation and is motivated by exemplar-based approaches to grammar. The study
uses syntactic priming experiments to test the effects of participants' exposure
to subject-verb agreement variants. Experiments also manipulate the gender,
social status, and individual identity of the talkers to whom participants are
exposed, testing the influence of social information on the perception of
agreement variation.

Access to social information about a speaker has been found to influence the
perception of the linguistic forms they produce. Exemplar-theoretic models of
speech perception accommodate these findings by positing that linguistic
knowledge consists of episodic memory traces of experiences with language, and
that linguistic exemplars represent rich social details. Exemplar-theoretic
models of syntax likewise posit that syntactic knowledge is a function of direct
experiences with language. However, syntactic exemplar theorists have not
explored patterns of sociolinguistic variation, and sociolinguistically-informed
exemplar-theoretic work has focused on patterns of phonological variation. This
study hypothesizes that for grammatical variation that is sociolinguistically
patterned, grammatical processing will show sensitivity to both social and
linguistic influences in the processing context.

The dissertation experiments use structural priming, a paradigm common in
psycholinguistic research for exploring cognitive representations of syntactic
structure. The experiments manipulate participants' exposure to variants of two
subject-verb constructions that alternate commonly across English dialects:
NPSG/PL+don't (The dog/dogs don't bark) and there's+NPSG/PL (There's a dog/dogs
in the yard).

The experiments find effects of recency, social similarity, and constructional
frequency on participants' interpretation of agreement forms, supporting central
features of a socially rich exemplar-based grammar. The study shows that
grammatical perception is sensitive to priming, such that exposure to a
nonstandard variant in the prime sentence increases the likelihood that
participants will perceive a nonstandard variant in the target sentence. Priming
is also differentially affected by the social dimensions of gender, social
status, and talker specificity. The dissertation argues that the notions of
indirect, direct, and potential indexicality capture these differences, and that
they can be accommodated by a model of grammatical knowledge that includes
multiple levels of abstracted linguistic and sociolinguistic categories.

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