Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Overt versus null subject pronoun variation in the Turkish spoken in Turkey and in New York City

    Author:
    Didem Koban
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Ricardo Otheguy
    Abstract:

    The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the use of subject personal pronouns in the Turkish spoken in Turkey and in New York City from a variationist perspective. Whereas the variable use of subject personal pronouns in Turkish has been extensively analyzed in many studies conducted in Europe, it has received much less attention in the U.S. This study has as one of its aims replicating the study conducted by Otheguy, Zentella and Livert (2007) where the influence of different social and linguistic variables on the expression of Spanish subject pronouns was examined across Latin American and Caribbean immigrant generations in New York. The present study examines several linguistic and social variables that condition the presence and absence of subject personal pronouns in the speech of 20 adult speakers living in Turkey (TT) and 20 living in New York (TNY). The study compares the rate of subject pronoun use in Turkey with that of NYC and whether contact with English has an influence on the overt pronoun rate. In both the TT and TNY samples, there were an equal number of males and females and an equal number of speakers from working and professional classes. The speakers ranged in age from 20 to 80. Data analysis involved Anovas, correlations, cross-tabulations and multivariate regression analyses of linguistic and social variables. The linguistic variables, which were also examined in Otheguy et al. (2007) and in other previous studies, are person and number of the pronoun and of the verb, continuity of reference, and TMA of the verb. Social variables that are analyzed are gender, social class, age of the informant, education, age of arrival in NYC, length of residence in NYC and so forth. The results of the study indicate that TT and TNY resemble each other regarding the linguistic variables that condition the distribution of subject personal pronouns and regarding the order of the variables that account for the most variance in the use of the pronouns. However, the two samples differ from one another with respect to the order and strength of the constraints within the person and number of the verb variable. In addition, we find a significantly higher rate of overt pronoun use for TNY than for TT. These findings are consistent with those obtained in the Spanish study and provide clear support for an English contact hypothesis when the increased use of overt subject pronouns among TNY and differences in constraint hierarchies between TT and TNY are taken into consideration.

  • Processing the not-because ambiguity in English: the role of pragmatics and prosody.

    Author:
    Yukiko Koizumi
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Janet Fodor
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the processing of not-because sentences in English (e.g. Jane didn't purchase the blouse because it was silk), which are scopally ambiguous between BEC>NOT (Jane did not buy it) and NOT>BEC (Jane bought it for some other reason) readings. Frazier and Clifton (1996) had found a strong dispreference for NOT>BEC, which could be attributed to high attachment of the because-clause outside the scope of negation, in conflict with an otherwise very general processing tendency to attach incoming constituents low. The present study was designed to evaluate the possibility that no adjustment of the parsing model is necessitated, because the NOT>BEC reading has marked prosodic and pragmatic properties which would not be anticipated by the parser without substantial contextual support. In two self-paced reading experiments, disambiguated target constructions were presented either as main clauses or embedded in if-clauses. If-subordination was hypothesized to neutralize the marked prosodic and pragmatic properties of NOT>BEC by (a) suppressing a prosodic boundary before because and (b) reducing perceived `incompleteness' by guaranteeing that another clause would follow. In Experiment 1, significantly slower processing occurred for NOT>BEC than BEC>NOT targets in main clauses, replicating previous results, but no processing time difference was evident when the not-because construction was embedded within an if-clause. Experiment 2 followed to separate the two factors, assessing the contribution of prosody alone. All details of Experiment 1 were maintained except that the not-because construction displayed on a single line in Experiment 1 was now distributed over two lines. The line-break inserted before because was expected to encourage a prosodic break there, due to readers' tendency to interpret visual display segmentations as prosodic breaks, thus favoring BEC>NOT. The reading time data confirmed this, showing no sign of the if-subordination amelioration observed in Experiment 1. Thus, Experiment 2 confirms that prosody is a crucial contributor to the usual difficulty of NOT>BEC. A general conclusion is that standard parsing strategies are not falsified by not-because, but may be overridden by its unusual linguistic properties.

  • The Rise of Disyllables in Old Chinese: the Role of Lianmian Words

    Author:
    Jian Li
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Jian Li
    Abstract:

    The history of Chinese language is characterized by a clear shift from monosyllabic to disyllabic words (Wang, 1980). This dissertation aims to provide a new diachronic explanation for the rise of disyllables in the history of Chinese and to demonstrate its significance for Modern Chinese prosody and lexicalization. A corpus of 300 Lianmian words in Old Chinese was compiled, including 96 Shuangsheng words, 172 Dieyun words and 32 Splitting-sound words. This study builds on previous morphological and phonological research on disyllables in Chinese and looks closely at detailed aspects of Old Chinese sound patterns and their evolution. Based on the analysis of sound patterns of Splitting-sound words and Dieyun words in Old Chinese, evidence from neighboring languages, statistical analysis of the development of Old Chinese, and reconstructed syllable structure, I argue that the simplification of complex onsets in Old Chinese was a central motivating factor for the rise of the earliest disyllabic forms - Splitting-sound words. Monosyllabic words with historic initial CL clusters (L a liquid), undergo fission, surfacing as disyllables where the first syllable has the simple C onset and the second the L onset. The occurrence of the liquid in the second syllable onset preserves consonant identity, which would otherwise be lost in the onset simplification process. Generalization of this process soon gave rise to another type of mono-morphemic disyllable - Dieyun. Once onset simplification was complete, around Late Old Chinese to Early Middle Chinese period, phonological motivation for syllabic fission disappeared. Mono-morphemic disyllables lost their productivity at this point. The disyllabic template they defined was preserved, giving rise to productive formation of disyllabic compounds. This word-formation process appears to be responsible for the dominance of disyllables in many modern Chinese languages spoken today. This diachronic phonological research accounts for issues that previous studies fail to address. It reveals the relation between the rise of disyllables and the creation of Lianmian words, the relation between the creation of Lianmian words and the simplification of Old Chinese phonology. It enriches our understanding of the role of Lianmian words and of Old Chinese phonological development in Chinese historical disyllabicity.

  • How to ask questions in Mandarin Chinese

    Author:
    Woan-Jen Liing
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Robert Fiengo
    Abstract:

    This thesis re-examines the four main question-types in Mandarin Chinese, namely, particle questions, háishì questions, A-not-A questions and wh-questions, whose previous accounts are argued to be unsatisfactory due to various faulty assumptions about questions, particularly the stipulation of `Q'. Each of the four Mandarin Chinese question-types is re-accounted based on the view that questions are speech-acts, whose performance are done by way of speakers' subconscious choice of sentence-types that mirror their ignorance-types, as proposed in Fiengo (2007). It is further demonstrated that viewing questions as speech-acts instead of a structurally marked sentence-type allows a simpler and more intuitive account for expressions that occur in them. Two expressions are re-evaluated for that matter: the sentential adverb dàodi in Mandarin Chinese and wh-the-hell in English.

  • Representational Implications of the Phonologization of Contour Tones

    Author:
    Benjamin Macaulay
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Juliette Blevins
    Abstract:

    This thesis bridges accounts of tonogenesis to representations of contour tones in the dominant framework, autosegmental phonology. Accounts of tonogenesis reference phonetic features and structures that are unable to be represented in autosegmental phonology. As these features are required for the phonologization of contour tones, it is argued that they must also receive some representation in the synchrony. This is done under the Evolutionary Phonology framework of sound change. An attempt to reconcile the disparity between perceived phonetic features and synchronic structure is made by discussing the implications of the sequencing of targets within autosegmental contours. This innovation would better reflect the tonal systems of the world's languages as well as other asymmetries in segmental phonology.

  • EFFECTS OF FIRST LANGUAGE VOICING RULES ON THE PERCEPTION AND PRODUCTION OF ENGLISH OBSTRUENT SEQUENCES BY ADULT HUNGARIAN AND POLISH LEARNERS OF ENGLISH

    Author:
    Marisa Monteleone
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Winifred Strange
    Abstract:

    The present study explored difficulties in the acquisition of a second language (L2) phonology, looking specifically at the role of native (L1) voicing rules on L2 perception and production. Hungarian and Polish late learners of English performed production and perception tasks with English voicing contrasts in contexts where Hungarian and Polish voicing rules might interfere. American English speakers also participated, for comparison. Each participant produced sentences containing fictional names with obstruent sequences crossing a word boundary (e.g. I met Gus Barker today). The non-native participants did show evidence of transfer of their native regressive voicing assimilation rules to their productions of English word-final obstruents, although regressive devoicing was observed more often than regressive voicing. Each participant also performed identification tasks with similar sentences (e.g. I met Jess Geller today): a four-choice task containing the entire obstruent sequence, and a two-choice task containing sentences in which either the first or last name had been replaced with silence (e.g. I met Jess [silence] today or I met [silence] Geller today). For word-final obstruents, the non-native listeners were significantly less accurate in the two-choice task than the American English controls, but not significantly different from each other. In the four-choice task, both groups became even less accurate, with the Polish listeners showing a more severe effect than the Hungarian listeners. Overall, there was a slight significant correlation of word-final perception and production scores. For word-initial stops, perception was highly accurate for all groups, with the exception of voiced stops in a voiceless-voiced context. Perception of word-initial /s/ was unexpectedly poor for all three language groups. The pattern of results observed in this study suggests that both L1 phonetic and phonological interference affects perception and production in an L2. Implications for current theoretical models of second language phonology are discussed.

  • The processing of complex syntax and its relation to non-native reading comprehension

    Author:
    Gabriella Morvay
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Elaine Klein
    Abstract:

    Via a variety of measurements, 64 Hungarian speaking 12th graders learning English as a second language were tested in a cross-sectional correlational study in order to determine the relationship between the ability to process complex syntax and L2 reading comprehension across two levels of language proficiency. While vocabulary knowledge is considered to be the most important determinant of effective non-native reading comprehension, results of this study showed syntactic comprehension to be a statistically significant estimator for L2 reading comprehension

  • An Antisymmetry Account of the Syntactic Positions of Nominal Arguments in Turkish: Implications for Clausal Architecture

    Author:
    Miho Nagai
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Marcel den Dikken
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the syntactic positions of nominal arguments in Turkish, looking at Turkish clausal structure based on Aktionsart (aspectual) properties (e.g. Vendler 1967) of (dynamic) predicates from the perspective of Antisymmetry (Kayne 1994). It has been argued that indefinite/non-specific arguments appear syntactically in lower positions than definite/specific arguments in some languages. While definite/specific arguments can be scrambled away from their base positions, indefinite/non-specific ones stay in situ (e.g. de Hoop 1992; Diesing 1992; Kornfilt 1984). Even though previous studies have shown that in Turkish specific arguments appear syntactically higher than non-specific arguments (e.g. Kennelly 1994; Zidani-Eroðlu 1997; Kelepir 2001), the question of where exactly they appear within a particular syntactic domain has not been clearly addressed. Based on the syntactic position and the behavior of Turkish nominals and (low) adverbs, I argue that a bare internal argument does not occur in the complement position of a verb; rather, it occurs in the specifier position of VP (cf. Larson 1988). The current proposal has important implications for Turkish clausal architecture: (i) Aktionsart (aspectual) properties of predicates play a crucial role in determining their syntactic structures, (ii) there is an aspectual projection (AspP) in accomplishments/activities, but not in achievements; this study thus provides evidence that the Vendlerian/Dowtian distinction between accomplishments and achievements is syntactically real ,and (iii) clause structure obeys (a weak version of) Antisymmetry. This study also provides implications for the relation between syntax and information structure. I show that the syntax-prosody boundary is associated with the semantic boundary between the presuppositional and the non-presuppositional interpretations, which is (at) the edge of vP. Crucially, the edge of vP serves as the boundary for both prosody and presuppositionality (at least in Turkish). This syntactic boundary/domain interacts with the information structure where topic/focus elements in discourse contexts are placed in particular syntactic position/domains. Languages use different linguistic cues/strategies in the realization of topic/focus. Such linguistic signals are typically the same as the signals for marking grammatical functions (e.g. case morphology, agreement, word order, and so on). In the case of Turkish, definite/specific DPs (and topics) occur above TP (SpecTP/SpecTopP) and indefinite/non-specifics (foci) occur within vP (SpecvP and SpecVP) (or a immediately pre-verbal position). Those particular syntactic specifier positions are clearly associated with the role of topic-comment/information structure, not just grammatical functions. It has been shown from Turkish data that syntactic positions of nominals (scrambling/word order) and prosodic prominence interplay in order to signal and maintain the topic-comment/information structure, which can also be observed across languages (such as German and Russian). Both word order and prosody are necessary to realize the information structure in Turkish; thus, neither syntax nor prosody should be reduced.

  • Acquisition of English verb transitivity by native speakers of Japanese

    Author:
    Tomonori Nagano
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Martin Chodorow
    Abstract:

    This study is concerned with the acquisition of English verb transitivity by native speakers of Japanese. Both a verb's semantic class (Levin, 1993; Pinker, 1989) and its frequency (Ambridge et al., 2008) have been proposed to influence the acquisition of verbs in L1. For example, verbs whose meaning entails change-of-location or change-of-state (e.g., move, roll, bounce, melt) typically participate in the causative alternation in English. In addition, among those verbs, it is predicted that high-frequency verbs such as break and move are acquired earlier than low-frequency ones such as shatter and slide. In SLA, a learnability problem is expected when the usage in L1 constitutes a superset of the usage in L2 (Inagaki, 2001; Montrul, 2001). Such asymmetric relationships exist between English and Japanese when there are idiosyncratic exceptions in a verb semantic class in one language but not the other. For example, inherently-directed motion verbs (e.g., descend, oriru/orosu "descendINTRANSITIVE/TRANSITIVE") and verbs of disappearance (e.g., disappear, kieru/kesu "disappearINTRANSITIVE/TRANSITIVE") are prohibited in the causative alternation in English, but not in Japanese. Thus, a learnability problem in the causative alternation is expected for Japanese ESL leaners. Twenty-six native English speakers and 35 Japanese ESL learners participated in this computer-based experiment. The data, analyzed with mixed-design ANOVA and mixed-effect linear models, show main and interaction effects of the verb's semantic class and the verb's (log) frequency. Post-hoc analyses indicate that the effect of the verb's semantic class was primarily due to the idiosyncratic exceptional semantic classes, as predicted by the asymmetric relationship in SLA. A strong effect of frequency was found for the acquisition of the idiosyncratic exceptional semantic classes, indicating that frequency plays a critical role in acquiring (unlearning) grammatical constructions that exist in L1 but not in L2.

  • Processing Chinese Empty Categories

    Author:
    Shukhan Ng
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Janet Dean Fodor
    Abstract:

    This study investigates empty category (or `gap') interpretation by native Mandarin Chinese speakers. Two research methods (sentence completion and self-paced reading) and four experiments were employed to examine the strategy adopted to assign a reference (or a `filler') to an identified empty category in real-time sentence comprehension. The sentences tested included main clause, clausal subject, clausal object, and relative clause constructions, all of which contained an empty category in subject position (pro, PRO or trace, according to the construction). There are three pertinent research questions: I) When a gap is identified before its filler is, does the parser adopt the first candidate filler, or does it wait to see whether a better filler may subsequently appear? II) How does empty category interpretation interact with structural ambiguity resolution? III) Is local interpretation of a gap (as generic in reference) preferred over association with a filler elsewhere in the sentence? Re Question I: The data indicate that the parser adopts the first available filler. This candidate filler may be in the already parsed segment of the sentence, or the first plausible filler encountered in subsequent words. Re Question II: The results show that the parser, when facing a combined structural and empty category ambiguity, is willing to sacrifice a preferred structural analysis in order to obtain an optimal reference for an empty category. Re Question III: For the empty subject within a clausal subject, the parser can either locally assign a generic interpretation or else search for an overt filler in the sentence. The data show that the parser prefers the latter strategy, and takes a generic interpretation as the last resort if no filler is found. These findings can be integrated into a comprehensive parsing strategy (an `Active Gap Strategy') for on-line empty category interpretation in Chinese. This strategy is proposed as a universal strategy, alongside Minimal Attachment and others.