Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Omitted Arguments and Complexity of Predication

    Author:
    Martin Port
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    William McClure
    Abstract:

    Abstract OMITTED ARGUMENTS AND COMPLEXITY OF PREDICATION by Martin Port Adviser: Professor William McClure This work focuses on the licensing conditions and logical structure of understood-argument constructions, or complement-drop constructions, in English. There are two main types of such arguments: Indefinite Understood Arguments (IUA) and Definite Understood Arguments (DUA). IUA readings occur in such cases in He ate, He cooked. In such cases, the reference of the dropped element need not be known for the sentence to be satisfactorily interpretable. DUA readings are given in such examples as She followed, She won. Here the reference of the missing element must be known to the speaker/hearer; it must appear in discourse. Our central claim is that it is not necessary to resort to explanatory factors outside the lexical-semantic structure of verbs in order to account for the alternations. We propose that for both IUA and DUA, the structure of the understood argument is a complex structure involving existential quantification: "x [P(x)]". It is never a simplex, atomic element that could be represented by an individual constant. For IUA cases, we justify this complex structure by showing that it is mirrored in the structure of the alternating verbs. We note in particular that IUA verbs often undergo other alternations such as the material/product alternation, which we consider to be an indication of a complex lexical structure. For Definite Understood Arguments, we give two licensing factors that correspond to the variable and the predicate in the logical form. We motivate existential quantification in DUA constructions, by considering such contrasts as I know/I know about that vs. I believe/*I believe about that. Selecting for a PP-complement correlates with the possibility of DUA. We claim that in this example, the about-phrase provides a slot for a variable, since the phrase makes allusion to some object without stating explicitly what it is. We conclude by analyzing subject-drop alternations--the causative-inchoative alternation--in the light of our findings regarding complement drop. We note that this alternation occurs with verbs of a simplex structure; and we offer a description of the general system of argument drop in English.

  • Asking Questions in Learner English: First and Second Language Acquisition of Main and Embedded Interrogative Structures

    Author:
    Lucia Pozzan
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Virginia Valian
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines how adults and children learning English produce and judge English questions. The ultimate goal of this study is to contribute to an understanding of the extent, nature and causes of learners' persistent difficulties with some syntactic properties of the language they are acquiring. To examine whether word order errors in the production of English interrogatives by L2 learners stem from lack of knowledge or from difficulties with automatic implementation of L2 procedures under real time constraints, L2 learners' performance in tasks that tap into different abilities is compared. To examine whether errors in the production of English interrogatives by L2 learners can be imputed to L1 transfer, L1 Chinese and L1 Spanish production patterns are compared. Finally, to examine whether errors in the production of L1 learners can be attributed to properties of the adult input, the results from an elicited production study with 3-5 year olds are examined in light of the frequency of different word combinations in the adult input. Taken together, the present results indicate that difficulties with English interrogative structures (a) are a consistent phenomenon in L1 and L2 learners, (b) might be better accounted for in terms of non-target-like representations, rather than difficulties with implementation of L2 procedures, and (c) do not follow in a direct way from L1 transfer or properties of the input. Learners' errors depend on specific syntactic configurations (wh- vs. yes/no) and wh-words (why, when), suggesting that child and adult learners entertain similar grammatical hypotheses and make use of similar mechanisms for language acquisition.

  • Effects of L1 Spanish and L2 English sublexical and lexical processing on L2 English word reading speed and accuracy, and reading comprehension

    Author:
    Deirdre Quinn
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Eva Fernandez
    Abstract:

    This study explores the word identification processes used by adult bilingual Spanish/English readers of varying proficiencies in both L1 and L2, and how these relate to reading comprehension levels in L1 and L2. It has been proposed in word reading research that lexical processing (accessing the word directly from the lexicon) is more efficient than sublexical processing (assembling the phonology of a word letter by letter). This investigation is concerned with the type of bilingual processing used by readers of varying ability. Three groups of Spanish/English bilingual readers, who differed across both L1 and L2 in their reading comprehension levels, performed a reading and listening task in both Spanish (Experiment 1) and English (Experiment 2). A third monolingual control group performed the task in their L1, English (Experiment 3). The on-line procedure involved presenting words visually and aurally, for participants to make a yes/no choice as to whether the words match. This bimodal task, not previously used in second language research, presented equal difficulty for readers of all proficiency types. The written words appeared in either uniform (lower) case or alternating (aLtErNaTiNg) case, to test reliance on lexical processing during word identification. Overall, L1 Spanish readers of all proficiency levels used similar strategies for L1 word identification, but the less proficient readers showed this effect when orthographic form was disrupted, i.e., when the stimuli were presented in alternating case. In L2, the less proficient readers tended to rely more on a sublexical strategy, while the high proficiency group used a lexical strategy. Crosslinguistic correlations indicated that readers who showed more disruption (as evidenced by higher reaction times) to alternating case stimuli in L1 Spanish had lower proficiency levels in English, indicating that L1 reading skill influences L2 reading proficiency. These findings combined support dual route models of reading, and have important implications for educational decisions: both sublexical and lexical skills are emergent in L1 and L2, and should be focused on in instructional settings.

  • A CORPUS-BASED SOCIOLINGUISTIC STUDY OF SUBJECT PRONOUN PLACEMENT IN SPANISH IN NEW YORK

    Author:
    ROCIO RANA-RISSO
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    RICARDO OTHEGUY
    Abstract:

    This dissertation presents a variationist sociolinguistic study of the variable placement of subject personal pronouns before or after verbs in Spanish in New York City (e.g. ella canta; canta ella, both `she sings'). It pursues a line of inquiry that partially replicates recent work by Otheguy & Zentella (2012). The research addresses, on the basis of a different morphosyntactic phenomenon, the same question of whether bilingualism in NYC is giving rise to language contact phenomena under which patterns of English usage are affecting the use of Spanish. In addition, this project expands the original database extracted from the Otheguy - Zentella corpus to include not only finite verbs but also non-finites, and it expands as well the tools of the analysis by introducing additional linguistic predictor variables. This project will demonstrate that, with respect to the feature under study, there are indeed two distinct groups of newcomers entering the City, those from the Caribbean and those from the Latin American Mainland. It will also show that while continuity with Latin American ways of speaking remains the strongest force shaping Spanish in NYC, changes in the internal grammar of the speakers begin with slight force in the first generation and continue in the second. On the basis of extensive internal evidence, this project advances our knowledge of variables conditioning the placement of subject pronouns. It is shown that the influencing variables for Mainlanders coincide for the most part with those for Caribbeans; that the speech of Caribbeans is not as rigidly set on an SVO word order as it has been claimed in the literature; and that the speech of Mainlanders is more set on an SVO order as well, rather than on the required VSO word order claimed by several authors in the literature. Lastly, the study demonstrates that the linguistic variables constraining pronoun placement in the speech of newcomers begin to change in significance and hierarchy in the first generation with more exposure to the City, and become insignificant for the second generation of speakers.

  • Attachment Ambiguities in Hebrew Complex Nominals: Prosody and Parsing

    Author:
    Amit Shaked
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Janet Fodor
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the prosody-syntax interface in two Hebrew complex nominals. Their meaning is identical but their syntax and phonology differ. The free state (FS) nominal is similar to English (e.g., the coach of the wrestler). The construct state (CS) nominal lacks the preposition, has stress on the second noun, and the construction constitutes one phonological word despite its internal syntactic structure. When followed by a relative clause (RC) the two constructions (1a,b) are syntactically/semantically ambiguous in the same way; but they contrast prosodically because one of the phrasing patterns permitted for FS (a boundary between the two nouns) is inhibited for CS. (1) a. FS: ha-me'amen shel ha-mit'agref she-parash le'axar ha-taxarut b. CS: me'amen ha-mit'agref she-parash le'axar ha-taxarut (the-)coach of the-wrestler who-retired after the-fight Research on the relative clause attachment ambiguity has shown that different languages and constructions vary in attachment preferences; it is important to investigate factors that may contribute to attachment decisions, because this variation threatens the universality and innateness of the human sentence processing routines. In recent years, much research has focused on a prosodic explanation: The Implicit Prosody Hypothesis (Fodor, 2002) proposes that attachment choices in silent reading are affected by implicit prosody mentally projected onto the sentence by readers, on the basis of language-specific phonological rules. Since implicit prosody cannot be directly observed, it is investigated by studying overt prosody in speaking and listening. This dissertation thus provides data on prosodic phrasing in Hebrew and its relation to the processing of the RC-attachment construction. Three experiments are reported: a production experiment studied speakers' preferred prosodic patterns for each construction; a listening study examined how the preferred interpretation differed for different prosodic contours; a silent reading experiment investigated the interpretation when no overt prosody was provided. For the FS sentences the results of the three experiments concurred, indicating that RC-attachment is sensitive to prosody, both explicit and implicit. For the CS, prosody was also found to play a role but some other factor(s) intrinsic to the construction resulted in consistently higher RC-attachment.

  • Deriving Word Order in Code-switching: Feature Inheritance and Light Verbs

    Author:
    Ji Young Shim
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Marcel den Dikken
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates code-switching (CS), the concurrent use of more than one language in conversation, commonly observed in bilingual speech. Assuming that code-switching is subject to universal principles, just like monolingual grammar, the dissertation provides a principled account of code-switching, with particular emphasis on OV~VO variation in two typologically similar language pairs, Korean-English and Japanese-English bilingual speech. Taking the view into consideration that linguistic variation is a result of variation in the domain of functional categories rather than lexical roots (e.g., Borer 1984; Chomsky 1995), the role of light verbs in word order in code-switching is further investigated and tested against Korean-English and Japanese-English bilingual speakers' introspective judgments of the code-switching patterns presented to them in the form of a questionnaire. The results provide strong evidence indicating that the distinction between lexical and functional or light verbs play a major role in deriving different word order, OV and VO in Korean-English and Japanese-English code-switching, respectively, supporting the hypothesis that parametric variation is attributed to differences in the features of a functional category in the lexicon. In particular, the explanation pursued in this dissertation is based on feature inheritance, proposed in recent developments the Minimalist Program. To account for OV~VO variation in Korean-English and Japanese-English code-switching, feature inheritance, primarily proposed for the C-T domain by Chomsky (2000, 2001, 2008), is extended to the v-ASP domain, thereby developing it into a full-fledged mechanism for the two phases, C and v, of the clause. Two principles of feature inheritance (feature selection and feature expiration) and three operational rules (earliness, economy, and multiple agree under antisymmetry) are proposed to show that feature inheritance is designed to make a derivation proceed economically and efficiently in the syntax. Based on this, the dissertation presents how head-initial structure in English (C-S-V-O) and head-final structure (S-O-V-C) in Korean and Japanese are derived, and argues that the OV-VO variation in Korean-English and Japanese-English code-switching is due to a result of object shift: if object shift occurs, OV is derived. On the other hand, if object shift fails, the underlying VO structure will surface.

  • The Semantics of Adjectives of Quantity

    Author:
    Stephanie Solt
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    William McClure
    Abstract:

    This work investigates the semantics of the adjectives of quantity (Q-adjectives) many, few, much and little, with the goal of providing a unified semantic analysis of this class, and in doing so exploring the semantics of quantity and degree more broadly. My central claim is that Q-adjectives must be analyzed as degree predicates - gradable predicates of scalar intervals - with much of the semantic content traditionally ascribed to these words instead contributed by a set of null functional elements and operations. This proposal allows a compositional analysis of Q-adjectives across the wide range of syntactic positions in which they occur, including quantificational (many dogs bark), predicative (John's friends are few), attributive (the little rice that remains), and especially differential (many fewer than 100 students), the latter of which is problematic for theories that take Q-adjectives to be either quantifying determiners or cardinality predicates. The same mechanism also accounts for the operator-like behavior of few and little and the availability of much as a dummy element (much-support), and allows quantification over individuals to be analyzed via simple Existential Closure, without giving rise to spurious `at least' readings for few/little. I further show that patterns in the interpretation and distribution of Q-adjectives can be related to properties of the scales of whose intervals they are predicated. The vagueness of Q-adjectives and their apparent cardinal/proportional ambiguity can be accommodated via the manipulation of two elements in the scalar representation, the structure of the scale (bounded vs. unbounded) and the location of the standard of comparison, with no need to posit multiple lexical entries. Aspects of scale structure are also responsible for contrasts in distribution among individual Q-adjectives (e.g. a few vs. *a many; the problems were many vs. *the difficulty was much). This thesis thus argues for the relevance of degrees and scales to the analysis of natural language meaning, while adding to recent work investigating subtle syntactic and semantic differences between superficially similar quantificational expressions, and developing compositional analyses of complex expressions of quantity. It further supports a view of nominal syntax in which functional elements contribute semantic content.

  • The acquisition of consonant clusters by Japanese learners of English: Interactions of speech perception and production

    Author:
    Mieko Sperbeck
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Winifred Strange
    Abstract:

    The primary aim of this dissertation was to investigate the relationship between speech perception and speech production difficulties among Japanese second language (L2) learners of English, in their learning complex syllable structures. Japanese L2 learners and American English controls were tested in a categorial ABX discrimination task of nonsense words sequences (e.g., /spani/ vs /sepani/) and included /sp, sk, pl, kl, bl, gl, spl, skl/ clusters. In the second study, production data on these same contrasts were collected by employing the delayed imitation task where speakers were asked to produce the target words in a short sentence. Productions were evaluated by American English listeners. In addition, the Versant test, a short test of English fluency by phone, was administered to see how Japanese participants' present English fluency level would correlate with their performance on the current experiments. Results of the perception experiment showed that overall accuracy by the Japanese group was significantly poorer than for Americans (Median = 71 % and 100% correct, respectively). Certain clusters were harder than others for Japanese listeners. Specifically, overall accuracy in the /bl/ clusters was significantly low (Median = 63% correct). The production experiment demonstrated that, as was the case with the perception experiment, the American group showed a ceiling effect for all types of consonantal sequences. In contrast, the Japanese group's performance was consistently lower (Mean = 64% correct). Specifically, Japanese participants had difficulty producing the voiced stops + schwa + liquid tokens (e.g., /belani/) accurately. Interestingly, the major errors in these clusters were deletion of schwas. Corelational analyses between perception and production performance were conducted. Overall, the Japanese group's perception and production was correlated (rho = +7.82, p < 0.01, one-tailed). Additionally, overall Versant test score was correlated with perception performance (rho = + 0.470, p < 0.01) and production performance (rho = + 0.633, p < 0.01). These results suggest that there is a link between L2 perception and L2 production at phonotactic level of acquisition. However, a picture of such link is much more complicated, as suggested by great variability among Japanese participants' performance. That is, the current study suggests that inaccuracy in L2 production is a product of interactions among inaccurate L2 perception, motor constraints of unfamiliar sequences of phonemes, and learners' individual differences in English fluency skills.

  • Phoneme restoration methods reveal prosodic influences on syntactic parsing: data from Bulgarian

    Author:
    Iglika Stoyneshka-Raleva
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Janet Fodor
    Abstract:

    ABSTRACT Phoneme restoration methods reveal prosodic influences on syntactic parsing: Data from Bulgarian by Iglika Stoyneshka-Raleva Adviser: Professor Janet Dean Fodor This dissertation introduces and evaluates a new methodology for studying aspects of human language processing and the factors to which it is sensitive. It makes use of the phoneme restoration illusion (Warren, 1970). A small portion of a spoken sentence is replaced by a burst of noise. Listeners typically mentally restore the missing phoneme(s), reporting that they heard a complete utterance with the noise burst overlaid on it. Phoneme restoration is used in the present study to explore the role of prosodic phrasing, specifically the impact of a major prosodic break on the interpretation of a sentence where no other type of disambiguation remains. Materials are constructed so that the phoneme(s) that listeners indicate they had heard reveal which syntactic/semantic interpretation of the sentence they had computed. Two target constructions in Bulgarian are investigated in a series of experiments, using the same materials throughout: NP/S coordination as in (1) and RC attachment as in (2). The target items are originally disambiguated by morphological agreement: number agreement between subject and verb in (1), and gender agreement between the head noun and the relative pronoun in (2). The sentences in each pair differ with respect to one or more phonemes in the word on which the morphological disambiguation is encoded; these are the phonemes that are noise-replaced in the experimental materials. (Prosodic boundaries are indicated by ||.) (1) a. Nakraia sreshtnahme Ani || i Ivan i Mimi biaha vav vaztorg. In the end meet-past-1p.pl Ani and Ivan and Mimi were in ecstasy `In the end, we met Ani and Ivan and Mimi were in ecstasy.' b. Nakraia sreshtnahme Ani i Ivan || i Mimi bee vav vaztorg. In the end meet-past-1p.pl Ani and Ivan and Mimi was in ecstasy `In the end, we met Ani and Ivan and Mimi was in ecstasy.' (2) a. Podtseniha advokata || na pevitsata koiato kupi imenieto. underestimate-past lawyer-m of singer-f who-f buy-past estate-det `(They) underestimated the lawyer of the singer who=N2 bought the estate.' b. Podtseniha advokata na pevitsata || kojto kupi imenieto. underestimate-past lawyer-m of singer-f who-m buy-past estate-det `(They) underestimated the lawyer of the singer who=N1 bought the estate.' The alternative structures for both (1) and (2) are also disambiguated by the location of a major prosodic boundary, as shown. For the NP/S coordination a boundary after the first noun (1a) signals that only that noun (Ani) is the object of the first clause; a boundary after the second noun (1b) signals that the first two nouns (Ani and Ivan) form a coordinate object in the first clause. For the RC construction, a boundary after the first noun (2a) favors the interpretation that the RC modifies the second noun (the singer), whereas a boundary after the second noun (2b) favors RC modification of the entire complex NP (the lawyer of the singer). After noise-replacement of the disambiguating phonemes, only these prosodic boundaries differentiate the competing interpretations. Three different response tasks are employed to tap which phonemes listeners mentally restored. In a visual word choice task, participants indicate which of two words (e.g. biaha / bee in the case of (1)) they had `heard' in the stimulus sentence (Experiments 1a-c). In a sentence repetition task, participants repeat back the sentence after hearing it (Experiments 2a-b). In a sentence shadowing task, participants repeat back the sentence as they are listening to it (Experiments 3a-b). In all three tasks, responses confirmed that prosodic boundary location provided viable disambiguation of syntactic structure. However, the effect of prosody differed for the two constructions. Both prosodic contours disambiguated NP/S coordination equally well, but a break after the first noun was a stronger structural cue for RC attachment than a break after the second noun. These findings for Bulgarian comport well with data from more traditional methodologies on prosodic influences on coordination and RC attachment interpretation in other languages, thereby validating the sensitivity of the new methodology. A broader range of other ambiguities in Bulgarian were explored in a subsequent pilot experiment. Also, the original target constructions were tested in written form, with a simulated `ink blot' obscuring the morphological agreement. Two tasks were employed: silent reading with visual word choice (Experiments 4a-b) and silent reading with sentence repetition (Experiments 5a-b). Visual grouping of phrases disambiguated NP/S coordination quite effectively, but had little impact on RC attachment interpretation. The advantage of the phoneme restoration approach is that it is unobtrusive, resembling everyday listening in a partly noisy environment. It draws no attention to the presence of ambiguity or to the relevance of prosody, it does not interrupt the stimulus sentence, and no comprehension question intrudes between stimulus and response. It is equally well-suited to studies of parsing sensitivity to non-acoustic factors such as syntactic priming, discourse context or lexical frequencies.

  • Japanese -te iru and -te aru: The Aspectual Implications of the Stage-Level and Individual-Level Distinction

    Author:
    Mamori Sugita
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    William McClure
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates semantic and syntactic properties of the forms –te iru and –te aru in Japanese, as well as pragmatic effects of statements with these forms. With an activity verb in the –te iru form, progressive, experiential, and habitual readings are available. With an achievement verb in the –te iru form, perfective, experiential, and habitual readings are available. I address specifically the difference between perfective and experiential readings. After reviewing the literature, where it seems that the distinction is not clear, I give a series of empirical tests and argue that experiential sentences exhibit properties of individual–level predicates, while perfective (as well as progressive) sentences exhibit properties of stage–level predicates. There are two types of –te aru sentences, intransitivizing and non–intransitivizing –te aru, both of which have been claimed to yield perfective readings. However, I argue that all –te aru sentences are experiential and exhibit properties that parallel individual–level predicates. Formally, I propose that progressive and perfective –te iru are represented as sets of events with a requirement that the event be realized. In contrast, I propose that experiential –te iru and –te aru are represented as sets of individuals with a requirement that the event be realized. The relative scope difference of the event and individual variables in the semantic representation reflects the stage–level and individual–level distinction. Progressive and perfective –te iru denote properties of events, while experiential –te iru and –te aru denote properties of individuals. The stage–level/individual–level distinction is also reflected in the proposed syntax. Progressive and perfective –te iru sentences have raising structures, while experiential –te iru and –te aru sentences have control structures. The scope of the event and individual arguments in the semantics of –te iru and –te aru is reflected in the position of their subjects in syntax. Lastly, I argue that habitual –te iru sentences parallel experiential–te iru sentences in that they also exhibit properties of individual–level predicates.