Keep it local (and final): Remnant preferences in 'let alone' ellipsis


The let alone construction (John can’t run a mile, let alone a marathon) differs from standard coordination structures (with and or but) by requiring ellipsis of the second conjunct—for example, a marathon is the remnant of an elided clause [John run a marathon]. In support of an ellipsis account, a corpus study of British and American English finds that let alone exhibits a Locality bias, as the second conjunct preferentially contrasts with the nearest lexical item of the same syntactic type. Two self-paced reading studies show that the Locality bias is active during online processing, but must be reconciled with indicators of semantic contrast and discourse information. Further, a sentence-rating study shows that the Locality bias interacts with a Finality bias that favours placing the let alone phrase at the end of a clause, which sometimes necessitates a nonlocal contrast. Together, the results show how a general bias in ellipsis for local contrasts is affected by discourse demands, such as the need for scalar contrast imposed by let alone, thereby offering a window into how possibly divergent syntactic and discourse constraints impact sentence processing.

The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69, 1278-1301