LINGUIST List 3.954

Fri 04 Dec 1992

Qs: The Psychology of Discontinuous Phrases

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  1. , Re: the psychology of discontinuous phrases

Message 1: Re: the psychology of discontinuous phrases

Date: Thu, 3 Dec 1992 20:39:15 -Re: the psychology of discontinuous phrases
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Subject: Re: the psychology of discontinuous phrases

For several years i have been studying the constituent-order possibilities
available in free word-order languages, i.e., languages which freely allow
discontinuous phrases, with a view to elucidating the typology and, if
possible, the consequences for cognitive science of such possibilities. So
far, i have been concentrating mostly on early Indo-European languages like
Latin and Sanskrit, but i have occasionally been able to do a little bit of
work on some of the Australian languages, and hope to be able to do more in
the future.

I have recently become interested in the question of the cognitive state of
a native speaker of such a language who is constructing and uttering (or
hearing and interpreting) a clause that includes a discontinuous NP. Does
the NP exist in hanns mind as an integral unit, with a distinct cognitive
'act' accounting for its discontinuity? Or do its individual words exist
in hanns mind as discrete entities which, just by happenstance, might occur
adjacent to each other in the surface clause? In brief, is the overtly
discontinuous NP a cognitively 'real' constituent or not? I have some
circumstantial evidence which i think tends to confirm the first hypothesis
(cf. my Topic Comment column in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory last
year and references cited there). But it seems to me that it ought to be
possible (or at least, i would like to believe it possible) to elicit
native speaker intuitions on this matter from, e.g., Australian aborigines.
 Not being a psychologist or psycholinguist, i am not sure how appropriate
elicitory experiments might be designed and, more importantly at the
moment, am not up on the literature. Does anybody know of any research
that has been done in this direction? It doesn't have to be on Australian
languages, though at the moment i am most interested in those. Any living
language allowing freely discontinuous phrases is fair game. Any relevant
comments, citations, etc. should be posted to me; if there is sufficient
interest i'll post a summary in the List.
Dr. Steven Schaufele c/o Department of Linguistics
712 W. Washington Ave. University of Illinois
Urbana, IL 61801 4088 Foreign Languages Building
 707 S. Mathews Street
217-344-8240 Urbana, IL 61801
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