Alternatives on demand and locality: Resolving discourse-linked wh-phrases in sluices


Previous studies have observed a tendency to associate the remnant (e.g., who) of ambiguous sluicing ellipsis with the closest / most local correlate (someone) in the matrix clause, as in Somebody said Fred fired someone, but I don’t know who (Frazier & Clifton, 1998; Carlson et al., 2009; Harris, 2015). I present the results of two experiments investigating the interplay between locality and the discourse status of potential correlates. The studies exploit the discourse-linking property of which-phrases in ambiguous sluiced sentences, like A teacher scolded Max or Dotty, but I can’t remember which one, to explore whether the preference for more local correlates is modulated by the discourse status of the potential correlates. I propose a discourse economy constraint (Alternatives on Demand: Avoid positing new discourse alternatives without evidence), which interacts with structural constraints like locality. Evidence from several questionnaire studies, as well as two online self-paced reading studies, supports the predictions of a sentence processing model in which the discourse status of items in memory immediately impacts the retrieval of a correlate for the remnant of sluicing ellipsis.

May 15, 2018
Amherst, MA