A Verb-frame Frequency Account of Constraints on Long-Distance Dependencies in English
Yingtong Liu, Rachel Ryskin, Richard Futrell, Edward Gibson
October 2021

Going back to Ross (1967) and Chomsky (1973), researchers have sought to understand what conditions permit long-distance dependencies in language, such as between the wh-word 'what' and the verb 'bought' in the sentence ‘What did John think that Mary bought?’. In the present work, we attempt to understand why changing the main verb in wh-questions affects the acceptability of long-distance dependencies out of embedded clauses. In particular, it has been claimed that factive and manner-of-speaking verbs block such dependencies (e.g., ‘What did John know/whisper that Mary bought?’), whereas verbs like 'think' and 'believe' allow them. Here we provide 3 acceptability judgment experiments of filler-gap constructions across embedded clauses to evaluate four types of accounts based on (1) discourse; (2) syntax; (3) semantics; and (4) our proposal related to verb-frame frequency. The patterns of acceptability are most simply explained by two factors: verb-frame frequency, such that dependencies with verbs that rarely take embedded clauses are less acceptable; and construction type, such that wh-questions and clefts are less acceptable than declaratives. We conclude that the low acceptability of filler-gap constructions formed by certain sentence complement verbs is due to infrequent linguistic exposure.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006220
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Cognition
keywords: long-distance dependencies, syntactic islands, sentence processing, frequency effects, semantics, syntax
previous versions: v1 [August 2021]
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