Join our Linguistics Seminar Series with a talk featuring Rebecca Tollan, a Professor from the University of Delaware, with research focus in experimental syntax.
Split case marking at the syntax-pragmatics interface: How morphosyntax affects pronoun interpretation (joint work with Lauren Clemens)
Anaphoric pronouns such as “it” in sentences like “The dog chased the cat, and it bit the rabbit” are linguistically ambiguous and therefore dependent on prior context for interpretation. This talk will examine how the morphosyntactic case forms (nominative, accusative, ergative, absolutive) of noun phrases in a prior clause (e.g., “the dog” and “the cat”) influence a listeners’ choice of antecedent for the ambiguous pronoun. Data is drawn from an earlier experimental study (Tollan & Heller, 2022) of split-ergativity in Niuean (Austronesian), and new data from Copala Triqui (Oto-Manguean), which exhibits Differential Object Marking. Collectively, these results indicate that accusative-marked objects are preferred as referents for pronouns over unmarked ones (in Copala Triqui), but that ergative-marked subjects are in fact dispreferred compared with unmarked (i.e., absolutive) ones (in Niuean). Lastly, a follow-up study on English, which uses “pseudo case marking” to allow manipulating split-subject and split-object marking within a single experimental paradigm, provides support for a generalization that marking increases interpretative saliency of objects, but not of subjects.