Linguistic intuitions are the result of interactions between perceptual processes and linguistic universals

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Abstract

We found a direct relationship between variation in informants' grammaticality intuitions about pronoun coreference and variation in the same informants' use of a clause segmentation strategy during sentence perception. It has been proproposed that 'c-command', a structural principle defined in terms of constituent dominance relations, constrains within-sentence coreference between pronouns and noun antecedents. The relative height of the pronoun and the noun in the phrase structure hierarchy determines whether the c-command constraint blocks coreference: Coreference is allowed only when the complement structure containing the noun is attached higher than the pronoun. We collected informants' judgments on pronoun-noun coreference in which the noun antecedent was contained in a complement structure dominated by either the Sentence-node (S-node) (higher than the pronoun) or the Verb-phrase-node (VP-node) (not higher than the pronoun). We also assessed each informant's perceptual clause-closure tendency using an auditory word-monitor paradigm. Informants who strongly segmented clauses in the perceptual task did not differentiate between an S- and VP-attachment of sentence complements, as revealed in their coreference judgments, but rather appeared to attach all sentence complements to the S-node. Informants with relatively weak perceptual segmentation differentiated their coreference judgments according to the node attachment of the complement structure. These results indicate that the linguistic universal controlling within-sentence coreference applies to the perceptually available structure for a sequence, not to its pure linguistic structure. Hence, linguistic intuitions result from the interaction of three independent faculties: language-specific knowledge, perceptual processes, and linguistic universals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)457-476
Number of pages20
JournalCognitive science
Volume10
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 1986
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence

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