[SynSem] Céline Pozniak (SFL)

The aboutness hypothesis: a new way to explain relative clause processing

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Céline Pozniak (SFL)

The aboutness hypothesis: a new way to explain relative clause processing

Subject and object relative clause processing has been explained by a combination of syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic factors. We suggest that many of the phenomena (e.g. general subject preference, effects of animacy, discourse status of RC internal subjects) can be explained by a general principle, the Aboutness Hypothesis: a RC is most acceptable and easiest to process when everything contributes to making the head its optimal aboutness topic. This principle makes predictions for the role of implicit causality verbs which make subjects or objects good candidates for aboutness topics, a bias which may conflict with the role of the head.  In Experiment 1, we find in acceptability judgments that object RCs with subject-biased verbs are the least acceptable and that object RCs with object-biased verbs can be as acceptable as subject RCs in French. We show in Experiments 2 & 3 that implicit causality influences RC acceptability independent of syntactic factors such as intervention effects as well as semantics factors such as thematic roles. Experiment 4 replicates the results found in acceptability judgements through self paced reading tasks (though in question answering times only). These results confirm the Aboutness Hypothesis as a new way to explain RC processing.

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