Choice of syntactic structure during language production: The production of unbounded dependencies
Huxley, Clare J
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During language production, conceptual messages are encoded into a target language and articulated. Existing models of language production assume several stages of processing including a conceptual level, a level where lexical selection and syntactic processing occurs and a level where morphological and phonological features are added ready for production (e.g. Levelt et al., 1999). Previous research has considered how lexical and syntactic information could be stored via lemma (Kempen & Huijbers, 1983), syntactic nodes (Levelt at el., 1999) and combinatorial nodes (Pickering & Braingan, 1998), but little is understood about how syntactic structures are selected. This thesis examines how constituent structures are selected by investigating choice of structure in unbounded dependencies such as Which jug with the red spots is the nun giving the monk? and how this is affected by factors such as verb-subcategorisation preferences and global sentence structure complexity. A series of language production experiments investigate how global structure complexity and verb-subcategoricatisaion preferences affect choice of syntactic structure at the clause level in unbounded dependencies. A picture description task reveals an unusual preference for the dispreferred passive voice structure as a result of global structural complexity. Sentence recall experiments demonstrate that both global structural complexity and verb-subcategorisation preferences can affect choice of structure and that competition between these factors decides the final structure. Finally, syntactic priming experiments show that processing mechanisms are shared between simple matrix clause structures and unbounded dependency clause structures, but that the influence of these shared mechanisms vary between the different structure types. This could be attributed to a modal of processing where choice of structure is decided by competition between structure representations which are influenced by different factors in different global syntactic conditions. The results suggest that choice of syntactic structure is decided through competition between possible structures. These possible structures may receive further activation or inhibition from other factors such as global structural complexity or verb-subcategorisation preferences and thematic fit. Global structural complexity may influence structure preferences through increased processing load or through attempts to integrate the clause structure with another global structure. Thematic role arguments may influence structure through a preference that syntactic roles fit with specified thematic roles. (e.g. experiencer as subject). This model assumes parallel processing of possible structures and individual structures within a complex larger structure. It also assumes an incremental model of processing which attempts to integrate structures as soon as possible.