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Escape from the island. Processing constraints on wh-extraction in Danish.

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In the formal syntax literature, it is commonly assumed that there is a constraint on linguistic competence that blocks extraction of WH-expressions (e.g. what or which book) from embedded questions, referred to as WH-islands. Furthermore, it is assumed that there is an argument/adjunct asymmetry in such island contexts. We report results from two acceptability judgment experiments on long and short WH-movement and WH-movement from WH-islands in Danish. The results revealed four main findings: (1) No adjunct/argument asymmetry in extraction from WH-islands. (2) Long adjunct WH-movement is less acceptable than long argument WH-movement, and this difference is most likely attributable to the parsing principle called Early Attachment which triggers temporary anomaly when applied to adjuncts. (3) Long movement reduces acceptability, but is more acceptable than an island violation. (4) Training effects reveal that WH-island violations, though degraded, are grammatical in Danish. Since the standard assumptions cannot account for the range of results, we argue in favor of a processing account referring to Locality (processing domains) and Working Memory.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year20 Jan 2012
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2012

    Research areas

  • Language, Neurolinguistics, Parsing, Syntax, working memory, wh-movement, Word order, Acceptability, grammaticality, locality, Training effects, priming, Language comprehension, Danish, Linguistics, Neuroscience, Cognition, cognitive neuroscience, psycholinguistics

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