Language Processing and the Mental Representation of Syntactic Structure
Brannigan, Holly P
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This thesis investigates the mental representation of syntactic structure. It takes an interdisciplinary approach which exploits methods and insights from both experimental psychology and theoretical linguistics to explore the claim that syntactic representation can be the subject of empirical psychological study. The thesis makes use of corpus analysis and two experimental methods, agreement error elicitation and syntactic priming, to examine syntactic structure in both language production and language comprehension. I argue that assumptions about syntactic representation are fundamental to all models of language processing. However, processing models have largely assumed the representations proposed by theoretical linguists in the belief that that syntactic representation is the province of theoretical linguistics. I propose that the mental representation of syntactic structure is a legitimate area of study for psycholinguists and that it can be investigated using experimental methods. The remainder of this thesis presents empirical evidence to support this claim. The main conclusion of this thesis is that syntactic representation is amenable to psychological study. The evidence which is gathered in this way is in principle relevant not only to theories of language processing but also to any linguistic theory which claims to characterise knowledge of language.