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Gradient linguistic intuitions cross-linguistically

Final Activity Report Summary - GLIC (Gradient linguistic intuitions crosslinguistically)

The research aimed at establishing the importance of robust experimental methodology for the reliable elicitation of acceptability judgements, the empirical basis of modern linguistic theory. Building on prior work of the fellow, the project extended standard methodological practice in comparative linguistics with a specific psycholinguistic methodology (magnitude estimation) that allowed reliable crosslinguistic comparisons, indispensable for identifying linguistic universals and the locus of crosslinguistic variation. In particular the project focused on quantifying the effect of certain structural and interpretative factors on the acceptability of pronouns in questions and relative clauses.

The work is important in the context of disagreements in the theoretical literature about the status of the data. Experimental data mainly from Greek and English provided a sound empirical base for resolving and understanding previous data disputes in the literature. At the same time the experimental data provide the basis for theoretical understanding of the phenomenon in question (resumption) as well as the nature of crosslinguistic variation in relation to these structures.

One important result was that the effects of some core syntactic principles interacting with the complexity of questions and relative clauses are very similar crosslinguistically and more robust than previously recognised. Thus, while various interpretative and contextual factors may improve violations relating to these syntactic principles, the overall shape of interactions remains the same. Further, the work demonstrated that the interface bewteen syntax and interpretation is of the same nature between languages like English and Greek, in contrast to proposals that in Greek some intepretative features might have been grammaticised as syntactic features. The locus of linguistic variation appears to be quantitative in nature, in the magnitude of otherwise identical principles. Such variation is reduced to structural (parametric) differences between the relevant grammars.

This experimental work was extended with work on the acquisition of questions and relative clauses as well as theoretical investigations of interpretative and syntactic aspects of structures with pronominals. This body of work has revealed a number of factors that govern the distribution of pronominals in grammars and has informed a number of theoretical hypotheses of the fellow on the nature of these structures.