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John Sprouse and Philip Hofmeister

Jon Sprouse of UC-Irvine and Philip Hofmeister of UCSD will speak at the UCSD Linguistics Department Colloquium on May 4, 2009, at 2:00 pm in AP&M 4301.

Jon Sprouse

Looking for evidence in the islands debate: working memory capacity and acceptability judgments

The islands debate has been around for over 15 years, and shows no sign of imminent resolution. One reason for its endurance is that the very fact that gives rise to the debate - the necessarily close interaction of grammar and parser in determining acceptability judgments - also makes it extremely difficult to isolate unique predictions for either side. In this talk, I'd like to illustrate this complexity by examining the relationship between individual working memory capacity and island effects. Results of a study of 144 English speakers suggests that there is no effect of working memory capacity on the acceptability of island violations. This result is readily predicted by grammar-based theories, but only predicted by processing-based theories under a very specific set of assumptions about the role of working memory during sentence processing. At least for me, this suggests that the source of island effects may in fact be grammatical (or grammaticized) locality constraints.

Philip Hofmeister

A processing-based view of syntactic island phenomena

Given a contrast in linguistic acceptability judgments, two viable explanations for such a contrast are possible, although not mutually exclusive: (1) the contrast results from underlying grammaticality differences (competence) or (2) the contrast is the by-product of processing constraints (performance). In this talk, I will discuss the kinds of evidence that can be used to distinguish such accounts, focusing particularly on the case of Subjacency violations. In particular, I will argue that the evidence (from self-paced reading time studies and acceptability surveys) favors a processing-based account of Subjacency and well-known exceptions to Subjacency.