LINGUIST List 23.2387

Sat May 19 2012

Review: Psycholinguistics; Semantics; Syntax: Runner (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 19-May-2012
From: Darcy Sperlich <>
Subject: Experiments at the Interfaces
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at

EDITOR: Jeffrey T. Runner, editorTITLE: Experiments at the InterfacesSERIES TITLE: Syntax and Semantics, Volume 37PUBLISHER: Emerald Group Publishing LimitedYEAR: 2011

Darcy Sperlich, Department of Applied Linguistics and Language Studies,University of Auckland / School of English, Manukau Institute of Technology

SUMMARYRunner begins the book by giving a brief overview of the articles contained inthis volume.

1 Interface Effects: Serbian Clitics -- Molly Diesing, Draga ZecThe first study investigates the Serbian second-position clitic 'je', which canbe placed either after the first word (1W) in the sentence, or after the firstphrase (1P), positions which have been considered simply interchangeable inprevious descriptions. The authors note the limitations of previous studies, andexplore argument-initial and predicate-initial sentences, together withbranching and nonbranching phrases where 'je' may be placed. They argue that theposition of 'je' is determined by discourse, structural and prosodic features.Using corpus data (synchronic and diachronic), together with experimentalevidence, and conclude that differences were found between the argument andpredicate placement of 'je'.

They then look at a previous study on the placement of 'je' (which confirmedwhat the authors suspected), flowing to the main experiment. This experimentpresented biased and neutral contexts (combined with argument andpredicate-initial positioning) for 'je', and found that the basic pattern held.This leads to the further investigation of context, finding that discourse,structural and prosodic features all are important in determining the placementof 'je' (1W/1P), namely in an argument versus predicate-initial of branching andnonbranching phrases. They conclude that placement of 'je' is not simplyoptional, but dictated by a combination of different interfaces.

2 I'm Leaking Oil and Looking for a Garage: Testing Conditions on MeaningTransfer -- Sam Featherston, Klaus von Heusinger, Hanna WeilandThis study examines shifts in meaning with the German nominalizing suffix'-ung', in three different experiments. The article starts by reviewing shiftsin meaning, such as 'I am parked out back', in which 'I' might mean 'my car' or'(I am) the driver of the car which is…', which in turn represents a subject ora predicate shift. The authors note that context can trigger either a Result orEvent reading, discuss issues of preferred versus forced interpretation,controlling context versus lexical items, and the problem of how to generalizethe results.

The background on meaning shift leads to discussion of '-ung' and ultimately theaims of the study. Moving onto the first experiment (asking participants tojudge test sentences), they use the local optimum method by controlling thecontext to suit the differing lexical items used -- testing the acceptability ofsentences, divided by Result/Event within either a NP/VP, and their relatedness.Experiment two used the identity method by matching a small array of lexicalitems to a particular context, and using the 'Thermometer Judgments' method totest acceptability (an evolution from Magnitude Estimation). Results show thatfirstly the identity method is superior to local optimum, which captures theintuitions on the ambiguous readings of '-ung'. The final study focuses on thefactor of relatedness, finding its effect remains constant. Finally, theobservations of the experiments are bought to the fore, and the methodologiesrevisited.

3 Tracking the Preference for Bound-Variable Dependencies in Ambiguous Ellipsesand Only-Structures --Arnout W. Koornneef, Sergey Avrutin, Frank Wijnen, EricReulandThe authors begin by covering two different hypotheses about pronoun resolution,a single route (e.g. via discourse) and a dual route (e.g. via logical syntaxand discourse). It is the latter hypothesis that current the study is conductedagainst, using Reuland's Primitives of Binding (POB) framework. The aim is toinvestigate whether there is a processing difference in strict/sloppy readingsof pronouns in VP-ellipsis and 'only' structures, which is predicted by the POBaccount on grounds of economy. The literature reviewed finds favourable evidencefor it, although not compelling.

The first experiment (off-line) tested four different conditions, bias to eitherthe strict or sloppy antecedent, within an ellipsis or 'only' structure. Theexperiment presents a story (in Dutch) with the target sentence, andparticipants are then given two sentences and asked to rate how the sentencerelates to the story on a scale of 1-5, indicating which sentence theypreferred. Also, they indicated the difficulty and plausibility of each story ona 1-5 scale. Results show that bias worked well, while obtaining a sloppyinterpretation was slightly easier than a strict one (predicted by the POB to bemore economical), and the ellipsis and 'only' structure were treated much the same.

Experiment two (eye tracking) was based on the previous test materials, usingthe most successful stories in inducing bias to either strict or sloppyreadings. Overall, sloppy interpretations are found to be more economical thanstrict interpretations, which are clearly reflected in the measures. Among otherthings, they also find reason to investigate a problem which can actually beattributed to individual differences, as some decide to establish acoreferential relation in the first conjunct, which helps them in the secondconjunct of the ellipsis/ 'only' structure region. They conclude by bringing inconverging evidence from neurolinguistic experiments, which largely support thePOB approach.

4 Most Meanings are Superlative --Hadas Kotek, Yasutada Sudo, Edwin Howard,Martin HacklThe chapter begins by discussing the superlative and proportional aspects of'most', especially in subject position. They review the literature and argue fora structural approach to the readings of 'most'. They cover theirrepresentations in semantic theory, which motivates their experiment. In eachexperiment that follows, they used either 2 and/or 3 groups of colored dots in apicture, with varying number of dots (e.g. 7 blue dots, 4 red and 4 yellow dots)asking participants to match sentences such as 'most/ more than half of/ thedots are blue' to the picture.

The first experiment uses the 'covered box' methodology, where two pictures areshown and participants match sentences to one of them. If they believe that thepictures do not match the sentence, they can opt for a third unseen picturecovered by a box (participants are told one of these pictures will match thesentence) -- this helps in detecting a less preferred interpretation. The secondexperiment includes three different colors compared to the previous two, andinstead of a covered box a rating task was opted for, as well as a differentmethod in presenting the dots. The last experiment includes reaction timing andself-paced counting of dots. The authors provide a detailed discussion ofreaction times and confidence levels, and their results point to two differentreadings for 'most' in the subject position, a proportional readings (dominant)and a superlative one (latent, and previously unnoticed in the literature).

Finally, the authors overview all the experiments and compare them to anotherexperiment with different results, before discussing the semantics 'most' andhow this might interact with other components to provide the superlative reading.

5 Grammatical Illusions and Selective Fallibility in Real-Time LanguageComprehension -- Colin Phillips, Matthew W. Wagers, Ellen F. LauThis study comments upon 'linguistic illusions', which are ungrammaticalsentences that appear to be grammatical at first glance, e.g. 'The key to thecabinets are on the table'. They begin by comparing two ways the processer couldretrieve information, searching in a syntactic tree to find subject-verbagreement, for example. The second type is 'content-addressable access', wherethe parser assesses the incoming information based upon cue strength, checkingfor the closest match, which may lead to inaccuracies.

The authors then review structures made ungrammatical that are easy to detect(no illusion), which is useful in measuring the performance of searchmechanisms. The first structure reviewed is island constraints, e.g.wh-extraction *'who do you wonder whether the press secretary spoke with?',which is referred to as an 'active' dependency formation. This means thedependency is constructed in advance before information pertaining to theposition of the gap disambiguates it. The second is backwards anaphora, as in'As he wrote the review, John wondered about the word count', which if accountedfor under Principle C of the Binding theory, helps to understand c-commandviolations. The last is forwards anaphora, as in 'The banker didn't want thejudge to convict himself', which has syntactic constraints (e.g. Principle A)and pragmatic ones (e.g. neo-Gricean pragmatics).

The next topic is grammatical illusions, thought to be a result of constraintsnot impacting on processing as much as those just discussed. Subject-verbagreement, or the lack of it, tends to happen with marked pronouns, e.g. plural.Incorrect case licensing in German may be detected but to different degrees,e.g. dative problems are more detectable than nominative. Forward anaphora ofthe pronoun type has trouble being accounted by Principle B (having pragmaticconstraints), where they look at child and adult comprehension studies that showprocessing problems when number and gender are altered. The same can be said ofnegative polarity items (e.g. any). The final item is comparative illusions,'More people have been to Russia than I have', which have been shown to be veryhard to detect.

Finally, the authors discuss the possible reasons for these illusions;directionality, locality, higher order representations, and structural priority,the major proposal. It is structural information which leads to dependencyformation. When the parser comes across something incorrect it looks for othercues, resulting in illusions. The authors sum up by applying this to theillusions discussed.

6 Seeing what you Mean, Mostly -- Paul Pietroski, Jeff Lidz, Tim Hunter, DarkoOdic, Justin HalberdaThis article continues the previous theme of investigating 'most', as in 'Mostof the dots are yellow', but instead focusing upon its semantic representationand how this is constructed in thought. The authors first discuss how wordsmight be associated with meaning and how this is achieved. For instance, logicalvocabulary has an analytical component to its meaning, and in the case of 'many'its meaning may relate to the Approximate Number System (ANS), but it is notentirely clear on which strategy a speaker might analyse 'most'.

The authors present possible ways in which 'most' might be computed, focusing onthe theory that it is analysed in terms of 'cardinalities', and discuss how thiscould be implemented among various theoretical constructs. Reviewing previousstudies, they reject the OnetoOnePlus model over the ANS, and discuss theproblems of 'most' meaning 'significantly more'. They then introduce the ITT(acronym only provided) from a previous study by Lidz et al., which is a modelof how verification procedures are computed, giving an in depth discussion. Thefinal section looks at other uses of 'most', e.g. with count nouns.

7 On the Representational Nature of Representational Noun Phrases -- Jeffrey T.Runner, Micah B. GoldwaterThe final article considers the English anaphor 'himself', comparing its use asa direct object reflexive (DOR) as in 'John hit himself', and as aRepresentational Noun Phrase' (RNP) as in 'John pointed at a picture ofhimself'. They first review work on syntactic/semantic binding of 'himself' inthese two uses, and cover their interpretation in ellipsis. This leads to thefirst experiment, testing DOR and RNP using a scene verification task(identifying a sentence with a picture) in a variety of structures (with tworeferents). Results show that RNP are interpreted more coreferentially than DORin ellipsis contexts, which they point out is unusual (for the DOR) whereBinding theory is concerned.

The authors cover proxy readings of reflexives, i.e. the 'statue' readings as in'Ringo Starr fell on top of himself', when discussing the person himself and hisstatue. This leads to a second experiment to tease out the differences betweenproxy and NP in ellipsis contexts. They find in a similar vein to the firstexperiment, that proxy interpretations attract more coreferentialinterpretations than DOR.

The final experiment (eye tracking) tested various conditions of the reflexive.Overall, proxy readings are interpreted to be more coreferential, and the eyetracking reveals that there is a difference between how proxy and nonproxy areprocessed, even though the final result appears to be similar (in choosing theantecedent).

The authors conclude with an unified account of proxy and RNP reflexives,considering a structural and a semantic approach.

EVALUATIONWe first discuss each chapter and offer our viewpoints, before discussing thebook as a whole.

Diesing and Zec's study of clitic placements unravels quite succinctly thefactors that dictate the use of 'je'. A point of criticism may be levelled atthe experimental process, in that when presenting the stimuli, together with twosentences side by side with differing clitic placement, and asking which oneappears more natural, one may risk introducing response bias. The forced choicecould mask finer details between the two; perhaps they could have presented thetwo sentences in separate sections of the survey, and ask to judge itsnaturalness on its own, which would require a Likert scale (or magnitudeestimation). The use of prosody to show the differences between the 'je'sprovide another angle but it is not noted whether the pitch chart shown appliesto various speakers, or just one.

Featherston et al.'s paper on the varied interpretations of '-ung' isinteresting, especially the great extent they have mapped out all methodologicalconsiderations for each experiment. Considering how the experiments evolve andwhich principles guide them is an inspiration to anyone testing meaning; it isexactly this kind of careful consideration of all the possible factors that anexperimenter would find valuable.

It was pleasing to see that Koornneef et al.'s experiments had their theoreticalroots in Reuland's theory, rather than the older Binding theory. It is goodthat the authors pilot the study first in an off-line task, rather than justdoing an on-line task first. Also of note is their examination of individualdifferences, which were borne out to be true; what interests me is why we findtwo groups of the same language speakers acting differently, one making use ofdiscourse strategies early on, while the other does not? (See Sequeiros (2004)for a Second Language Acquisition perspective.)

Kotek et. al. provide a series of experiments which set out theproportional/superlative meaning of 'most'. The methods are most interesting,from the 'covered box' methodology to alternating colours. These approaches areinvaluable for those who wish to tease out ambiguous meanings in words whichwould not be apparent by looking at introspection alone.

Phillips et al. provide a select overview of grammatical illusions, and offertheir insight into what might be occurring. While there are many interestingthings to comment on, one which caught my eye was the tentative suggestion thatreflexives in argument positions should not be able to long distance bind (inEnglish at least), because only structural features are used in search forantecedents. This means that the phi-features of reflexives are irrelevant, andsuch a suggestion would have implications for theories of anaphora that rely onmorphological differences between reflexive types (e.g. Reuland 2011).

Pietroski et al. offer a deep theoretical analysis of 'most' while usingexperimental studies to back up their claims. While not being particularlyconversant in the nuances of semantic representations, I found their articlequite enlightening as to how a speaker might represent 'most' mentally.

The final article by Runner and Goldwater on anaphora is interesting as againeye tracking shows differences in how a speaker processes these reflexives indifferent contexts, which would not be so obvious if we just looked at theirfinal product. Their experiment seems to fit in well with what Kennedy and Lidz(2001) find, namely that in ellipsis constructions (in a comparative structure)the elided anaphor has a long distance antecedent, hence the question is whetheror not this could be incorporated into their own analysis.

Considering the volume as a whole, the articles fit well with each other, aresufficient in depth and explain the issues well. Furthermore, as noted in theintroduction, the hope is that these articles will inspire further research --they do because of the wide range of methodologies used and questions asked areworthy of further application. The only criticism I could offer is the narrowrange of topics covered, three on anaphora, and two on 'most'. Runner does notethat only recently has the experimental component been used in conjunction withformal linguistics, which is a good thing, and perhaps explains the relativelynarrow focus of the topics and the state of the field. To conclude, I wouldrecommend this volume to those interested in the syntax/semantic interface andmore specifically in experimental methodology.

REFERENCESKennedy, C. and J. Lidz (2001). A (Covert) Long Distance Anaphor in English.Proceedings of the 20th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics. K.Megerdoomian and L.A. Bar-el. Somerville, MA, Cascadilla Press: 318-331.

Reuland, E. (2011). Anaphora and Language Design. Cambridge, Massachusetts, TheMIT Press.

Sequeiros, X.R. (2004). ''Interpretation of reflexive anaphora in second languageVP-ellipsis: Relevance Theory and paradigms of explanation.'' Second LanguageResearch 20(3): 256-280.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERDarcy Sperlich is currently a senior lecturer of ESOL in the School ofEnglish at the Manukau Institute of Technology, in Auckland, New Zealand.He is also a PhD candidate in his final year at the Department of AppliedLanguage Studies and Linguistics at the University of Auckland,investigating anaphoric interpretation in Chinese Mandarin by speakers ofother languages, and whether or not this suggests an anaphoricpragmatic/syntactic division of labour in the languages concerned,involving a combination of psycho- and theoretical linguistics, as well asSLA. His other research interests include Chinese comparative dialectology,especially as related to syntax.

Page Updated: 19-May-2012