Psycholinguistic perspectives on grammatical representations Harald Clahsen
Introduction • Uriagereka (2005):‘The future of linguistics may lie in psycholinguistics. • Chomsky (1981:9):‘Evidence from language acquisition …along with evidence derived from psycholinguistic experimentation, the study of language use (e.g. processing), language deficit, and other sources should be relevant, in principle, to determining the properties of UG and of particular grammars. But such evidence is, for the moment, insufficient to provide much insight concerning these problems’
Structure of the talk • Part I: How to bridge the gap between psycholinguistics and theories of grammar • Part II: Evidence from language acquisition • Part III: Evidence from language impairments
Mental representations of language Linguistics: A grammar of a particular language is a mental structure consisting of grammatical representations which describe what it means to know a language. Language Processing: Operations which transform a mental representation of a linguistic stimulus into a mental representation of a different form. Language Acquisition: A sequence of transitional changes to the mental representations of language over time Language Impairments: A normal set of mental representations of language minus impaired properties
Evaluating psycholinguistic results • Are there any confounding factors or alternative explanations for a given psycholinguistic result? • Is there converging evidence for a given finding from other sources? • Does a given finding confirm/disconfirm a specific linguistic account?
Language acquisition: The continuity hypothesis (Weak) Continuity: The child’s grammar learning device does not change over time and all developmental changes are due to increases in the child’s lexicon, semantic and pragmatic knowledge, and increases in cognitive resources in general. ‘Continuity … makes sure that developmental evidence will bear on the object of inquiry that the linguist cares about, the study of systems constrained by the human language faculty’ (Rizzi 2000: 269).
Three ways of representing regular and irregular inflection • Rules all the way down (e.g. Halle & Mohanan 1985) • Associations all the way up (e.g. Bybee 1995) • Rules and entries (e.g. Jackendoff 1997, Wunderlich 1996)
German Participles • Regulars:wischen – gewischt 'to mop - mopped' • holen – geholt 'to fetch – fetched' • are affixed with –t • never exhibit any stem changes • Irregulars:fressen – gefressen 'to eat - ate' • trinken – getrunken 'to drink - drunk' • are affixed with –(e)n • sometimes exhibit (phonologically unpredictable) stem changes • ge- prefixation: prosodically determined, not morphologically • occurs when stem is stressed on the first syllable
Participle formation in German child language *gekommt 'come’ (correct: gekommen) Age # Total -t -n range children errors errors errors Existing verbs 1;4-3;9 9 116 108 (93%) 8 (7%) 3;6-6;11 51 88 77 (87,5%) 11 (12,5% 7;2-8;11 19 64 59 (92,2%) 5 (7,8%) Nonce words 3;10-8;10 41 454 422 (93%) 32 (7%)
73 samples of spontaneous speech from 7 children covering the age period of 1;11 to 3;8 Number of cases I. Overapplications of unmarked stem 84 (88.4%) (a) er lauft ‘ he runs’ (correct: läuft) (b) sie lest ‘she reads’ (correct: liest) II. Paradigmatic errors: 11 (11,5%) (c) alle fäll da runter (correct: fall-en) ‘everybody fall down there’(d) ich gib dir das (correct: geb(e)) ‘I give you that’(e) ich sieh (‘I see’) (correct: seh(e)) III. Irregularization error non-existent *sie tänzt (correct: tanzt) ‘she dances‘ Stem formation errors in German child language
Auditory elicited production task with 26 children (age: 6;2 to 10;5): Martin will unbedingt den neuen Pokemon-Film sehen.‘M. definitely wants to see the new pokemon movie’. Also gibt ihm seine Mutter Geld und Martin beep den Film. sieht‘Hence his mother gives him some money, and Martin ___ the movie’ Stem formation errors in German child language
Results of the elicited production task Stem overregularizations in relation to age • There were 168 errors out of 555 elicited forms; all errors were overapplications of the unmarked stem. • Low-frequency stems elicit significantly more stem errors than high-frequency ones : Errors Correct Error stems % ‑i‑ / high freq. 19 136 12.2% ‑i‑ / low freq. 89 59 37.3% ‑ä‑ / high freq. 9 118 7.0% ‑ä‑ / low freq. 51 74 40.8% Totals 168 387 30.2%
Preliminary summary • Regular/irregular contrasts in children‘s inflectional errors:Children overapply the regular –t participle suffix and the unmarked stem to irregular verbs. • Frequency effects in children‘s inflectional errors:Children produce more overregularizations for irregular verbs with low frequencies than for those with high frequencies. • Age effects in children‘s inflectional errors:Overregularization errors decrease with age.
Confounding factors? • Regular ‚rules‘ of morphology usually have high type frequency and apply to a large number of different forms. • The type frequency of the German –t participle is much higher than that of irregulars. (Bybee 1999, Stemberger 1999) Input frequencies (in types) (4 corpora, children from 1;5 to 2;1, app. 40,000 words): -t participle forms: 45% -n participle forms: 55%
Converging evidence? • Within the same language:Plural formation in German child language(Clahsen et al. 1992, Bartke 1998) • Across languages:- Development of the English past-tense(Marcus et al. 1992)- Development of verb inflection in L1 Spanish(Clahsen et al. 2002)
Specific theory? • Rules all the way down • Associations all the way up • Rules and entries Acquisition results provide evidence against (A) and (B).
Specific theory? • The basic distinction between combinatorial and frozen forms can be implemented in different ways: • Rules and entries (e.g. Wunderlich 1996) • Rules that contain variables and those that have a constant output (e.g. Blevins 2001) • a. <[V, 3sg, pres, ind], X+s> • b. <[V, 3sg, pres, ind, be], is> • - Probabilistic rules vs. default rules (Yang 2000) Acquisition results do not help to decide between these accounts.
Language impairments The breakdown-compatibility criterion: Patterns of impairment and sparing of linguistic ability should be compatible with linguistic theory. (Grodzinsky 1990: 111) Double dissociations: Given two linguistic phenomena A and B, if A is impaired in one population (where B is spared) and B is impaired in another population (where A is spared), then A and B are likely to be supported by different mental representations.
Passives in syntactic theory • Transformational accounts (e.g. Chomsky 1981): [[The fish]i is [[eaten ti ]] [by the man]] • Achain • Lexicalist accounts (e.g. Bresnan 1982): [The man] eats [the fish] / [The fish] is eaten [by the man] • SUBJ OBJ OBJ SUBJ • Functional changes: SUBJ OBJ (BY OBJ); OBJ SUBJ • Morphological change: V Vpart
Binding in syntactic theory • Standard Binding Theory (Chomsky 1981) • Binding of non-reflexive pronouns is based on principles of semantic interpretation, reflexive binding is defined of syntactic constraints on potential antecedent domains (e.g. Pollard & Sag 1992, Kiparky 2002). • Deriving binding phenomena from independent syntactic principles (Hornstein 2001, Reuland 2001). John believes [that [Maryi] [[likes herselfi]]] A-chain
Down’s Syndrome • DS is a congenital disorder caused by an extra copy of a segment of Chromosome 21 that is associated with specific physical features and cognitive delay. • Language abilities are relatively more impaired than other areas of cognition. • Morphosyntax is more impaired than other linguistic domains. • Patterns of morphosyntactic skill that are qualitatively different from those observed in normally developing children.
Mental Age (mean) Chronological Age (range) Number of subjects WS5 5;6 10;3-13;3 5 WS7 7;7 12;2-16;2 5 DS5 5;7 12;3 – 13;4 4 DS6 6;4 12;6-13;2 4 CTR5 5;6 5;3-5;9 10 CTR6 6;3 6;1-6;10 10 CTR7 7;7 7;3-7;10 10 Participants
Method: Passives Picture-pointing task(Van der Lely, 1996) 1. Active transitive: The man eats the fish 2. Full verbal passive: The fish is eaten by the man 3. Short progressive passive: The fish is being eaten 4. Ambiguous passive: The fish is eaten
Passives: visual materials The fish is eaten by the man 1. Correct 2. Adjectival 3. Reversal 4. Distracter 1 2 3 4
Method: Binding 1. Name-pronoun: Is Mowgli tickling him? 2. Name-reflexive: Is Mowgli tickling himself? 3. Quantifier-pronoun: Is every monkey tickling him? 4. Quantifier-reflexive: Is every monkey tickling himself?
Results: Binding Percentages Correct: DS vs. Controls DS: significantly lower scores on reflexive conditions
Results: Passives Percentages Correct and Percentages of Reversal Responses DS: chance performance on passives and sig. more reversal responses than controls.
Preliminary Summary • DS: Binding • good performance on pronouns • poor performance on reflexives • DS: Passives • low accuracy on passive structures • high number of reversal errors
Confounding factors? • Can the DS children‘s difficulties with passives and reflexive binding be derived from their low IQ levels? • Comparison with Williams Syndrome • Can the DS children‘s difficulties with passives and reflexive binding be explained in terms of delayed language development? • Comparison with younger normal children
Binding in Williams Syndrome Percentages Correct: WS vs. Controls WS: high correctness scores and no significant differences to controls
Passives in Williams Syndrome Percentages Correct: WS vs. Controls WS: high correctness scores and no significant differences to controls
Binding in younger normal children • Reflexives:30 children (age range: 2;6 – 5;3) achieved accuracy scores of >90% (McKee 1992). • Pronouns:19 children (age range: 4;0 – 5;1) achieved accuracy scores of <50% (Thornton & Wexler 1999).
Converging evidence? • Binding:Perovic (2004) tested four young adults with DS (CA: 17;2 to 20;7 years) achieving near perfect accuracy scores of >90% on non-reflexive pronouns and poor scores of <60% on reflexives. • Passives:Bridges & Smith (1984) tested 24 DS and 24 non-retarded children matched to the DS children and found accuracy scores of over 80% on actives and of around 50% on passives.
Breakdown compatability? • A double dissociation:
Breakdown compatability? • DS: Binding and Passives - impaired reflexive binding - low accuracy on passive structures Binding of reflexives and passivization involve the same syntactic mechanism (A-chains).
Conclusion Has any theoretical linguist ever changed his/her theory in the face of psycholinguistic evidence? • Common ground: the search for the most appropriate mental representations for language. • Three criteria for evaluating psycholinguistic results Psycholinguistic evidence may help to adjudicate between competing linguistic accounts.