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Department of Linguistics pres.

Dissertation Defense

Hezao (Alan) Ke

Linguistics graduate student Hezao (Alan) Ke will defend his dissertation, "The syntax, semantics and processing of agreement and binding grammatical illusions," on Tuesday, July 16, at 10 a.m.

The overall goal of this dissertation is to establish a linking theory between the syntax and semantics and the processing of subject--verb agreement and reflexive binding. This dissertation develops a unified syntactic analysis of agreement, based on a formalization of minimal search. Such an analysis accounts for a variety of agreement patterns observed in various languages, including negative concord in Czech, inflection doubling in Norwegian, Frisian and Swedish, multiple agree in Japanese, cyclic agree in Georgian and Hindi Urdu, and subject-complementizer agreement in Lubukusu. The minimal search-based analysis is also extended to reflexive binding. The minimal search-based analysis of subject--verb agreement and reflexive binding captures the syntactic similarity between these two constructions.

This dissertation then argues that subject--verb agreement and reflexive binding have an important representational difference: the phi-features involved in subject--verb agreement and reflexive binding are essentially different in their semantic content. The phi-features on bound reflexives (and bound variables generally) have semantic content and are semantically interpretable, whereas those on agreeing verbs/T heads are not semantically interpretable.

The syntactic and semantic analyses of agreement and reflexive binding have crucial consequences for the sentence processing study of subject--agreement and reflexive binding. This dissertation proposes that the parser is less tolerant of mismatches of semantically interpretable retrieval cues (in reflexive binding) in cue-based retrieval, compared to those of phonological cues (in subject--verb agreement). Experimental results are provided to test how this asymmetry may underlie interesting dissociations with regard to grammatical illusions in subject--verb agreement and reflexive binding.
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