Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • The Social Correlates of Lexical Borrowing in Spanish in New York CIty

    Author:
    Rachel Varra
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Ricardo Otheguy
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates lexical borrowing in Spanish in New York. English-origin lexical material was extracted from a stratified sample of 146 Spanish-speaking informants of different ages, national origins, classes, etc., living in New York City. ANOVAs and Pearson correlations determined whether lexical borrowing frequency and the type of vocabulary used (i.e. idiosyncratic and shared) were correlated with speaker traits. Results show that all speakers, regardless of their English proficiency or how long they have been in the U.S., borrow. However, borrowing frequency is best predicted by immigrant generation. Furthermore, borrowing rate may play a distinct role for first and second generation Spanish speakers. In the first generation, the middle class, those with more education, better proficiency in English and more Spanish confidence borrow most often. In the second generation, Puerto Ricans and those with more English confidence borrow most. Results for borrowing vocabulary suggest that the middle class is more responsible for introducing novel vocabulary to the Spanish-speaking community than the working class. Overall, though, both novel and shared vocabulary are integral components of speakers' borrowing inventories. Finally, this dissertation examines flagging (e.g. pauses, fillers, metalinguistic commentary) near other-language strings to determine whether flagging is indicative of language awareness or linguistic disfluency. Results showed no support for the latter; but evidence for the former interpretation suggests that a simultaneous, albeit slight, process of deborrowing accompanies lexical borrowing in New York. The findings and the methodology of this dissertation contribute to several fields of language study. First, the definition of lexical borrowing used makes it germane to studying borrowing in situations of on-going, face-to-face contact in multidialectal communities. Furthermore, a corpus-based approach to differentiating between two types of bilingual speech phenomena, lexical borrowing and codeswitching, is offered. Second, findings show that borrowing in New York is not a `deficit' behavior and that some aspects of identity (such as arrival age and class) cross-cut traditional (i.e. regional) characterizations of U.S. Latinos. Finally, findings for bilingual speech partially corroborate models describing the long-term outcomes of contact that predict that the quantity of contact features observable in a language is a function of the intensity of contact.

  • Prosody and Parsing in a Double PP Construction in Hebrew

    Author:
    Ronit Webman Shafran
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Janet Fodor
    Abstract:

    It is a standard finding that speakers reliably produce prosodic cues to clause boundaries and listeners use these cues in parsing sentences. However, considerable uncertainty remains regarding whether the same applies to syntactic phraseboundaries. A long series of studies in the parsing literature on ambiguous PP attachment constructions, such as Susan hit the man with the umbrella,has yielded mixed results. This dissertation investigates the prosody-syntax interface in the processing of a double PP construction in Hebrew. Selection restrictions force the first prepositional phrase (PP1) to attach low, but attachment of the second one (PP2) is ambiguous: it can attach maximally high to VP (as an argument of described) or maximally low to the NP inside PP1 (modifyingmarriage ). Dana VP[ te&lsquoara &lsquoet NP[ ha-kšayim PP1[ be-nisu&lsquoe-ha PP2[ la-šadran Dana described ACC the-difficulties in-marriage-her to the-broadcaster A length contrast in PP2 was also examined. PP2 was either short (as here) or long (with addition of a modifier to the short version). This double PP construction exhibits a sharper structural contrast between the two potential attachment sites than the long-studied single-PP construction: there is a greater discontinuity in the syntactic tree for the high attachment analysis, which could encourage a stronger prosodic break before the ambiguous PP, yielding more reliable results than for the single-PP construction. An advantage of conducting the experiment in Hebrew is that the acoustic markers of prosodic phrase boundaries, which include a final high boundary tone, are clearer than in English. Two experiments were conducted. The first was a combined production-comprehension study examining the relationship between preferred interpretation and preferred prosodic phrasing in reading aloud. The results showed a reliable association between high attachment of PP2 and the presence of a prosodic break immediately preceding it, though as predicted there were significantly more instances of this pattern (prosodic break + high attachment) for long than for short PP2. The second experiment tested comprehension of the same items in silent reading. PP2 length effects on attachment were very similar in silent reading and reading aloud, providing new insight into the Implicit Prosody Hypothesis (Fodor 2002).

  • Understanding and interpreting Japanese NP1 wa NP2 da sentences: Mechanism and contextual factors

    Author:
    Megumi Yoshida
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    William McClure
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the contextual factors that affect the understanding and interpretation of one Japanese topicalized construction, NP1 wa NP2 da sentences, by native speakers of Japanese. The construction allows two possibilities in the relation between the NP1 and the NP2. When the two NPs are not syntactically connected (Type I), the sentence is generally vague, and a particular context is required to specify the meaning. When they are syntactically connected (Type II), they can refer to a semantically identical referent, and the sentence is naturally interpreted as an identity sentence. The aim of the study is to examine how context determines the meaning of Type I and Type II NP1 wa NP2 da sentences. These sentences were examined in a set of controlled experimental contexts by two kinds of test: Understandability and Interpretation. Results showed that readers generally tried to connect the NP 1 wa NP2 da sentences to the context syntactically, semantically, or pragmatically when the sentences were presented in a context. Specifically, a syntactic and semantic relation with a particular verb in the preceding context sentence and the NP2 or information about a particular place presented by a locative frame enhanced the comprehension of Type I NP1 wa NP2 da sentences. When these contextual factors were presented consistently and appropriately, Type II NP1 wa NP2 da sentences could be interpreted as non-identity sentences. When such context was not available, the interpretations tended to depend on the sentence-internal conceptual connection between the NP1 and the NP2 in both types of NP1 wa NP2 da sentences. These results suggest the reader's use of their linguistic and pragmatic knowledge differs according to the context and sentence type. The results also reveal a new understanding of the `aboutness' relation, a notion that accounts for the non-syntactic connections between the topic and the predicate. Specifically, in the process of understanding NP1 wa NPsub>2 da sentences, establishing an `aboutness' relation refers to the process of finding an appropriate predicate in the context to create a proposition to connect the predicate (NP2) to the topic NP (NP1).