LINGUIST List 9.197

Mon Feb 9 1998

Qs: Locality and Mental Operations

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  1. Frederick Newmeyer, Locality and Mental Operations

Message 1: Locality and Mental Operations

Date: Mon, 9 Feb 1998 11:07:36 -0800 (PST)
From: Frederick Newmeyer <>
Subject: Locality and Mental Operations

Intrinsic properties of grammars are often attributed to some feature
of cognition in general. For example, a number of scholars have argued
that the structure-dependence of grammatical rules and their cyclic
application simply exemplify the way the human mind structures and
processes ALL complex information, whether grammatical or otherwise.

When it comes to LOCALITY conditions on rules, however, the consensus
of those who would attribute to them an external explanation is that
their origins lie in language USE. That is, the effects of principles
such as Subjacency, the ECP, and other locality conditions are said to
be attributable to the reduction of processing complexity in parsing.

What I find interesting is that these same locality restrictions
restrict COVERT operations as well as overt ones. Using GB
terminology, it is widely accepted, for example, that the ECP affects
interpretation. And in at least some languages it is clear that
Subjacency affects the interpretation of the scope of wh-type
elements, even if there is no movement. Indeed, in many OV languages
there is little if any overt movement, yet one can show that the same
principles constrain interpretation that constrain overt displacement
of elements in movement-rich VO languages.

What I am wondering is why this should be so. On-line parsing
pressures could hardly be responsible. What could an 'external
explanation' for this phenomenon be? Does anybody say that mental
operations involving structured representations are subject to
'locality conditions'? If so, who?

I'll summarize if there is enough interest.

Fritz Newmeyer
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