The Division of Labor in Explanations of Verb Phrase Ellipsis

Kim, Christina S. and Runner, Jeffrey T. (2017) The Division of Labor in Explanations of Verb Phrase Ellipsis. Linguistics and Philosophy, . ISSN 0165-0157. E-ISSN 1573-0549. (In press) (doi: (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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In this paper, we will argue that, of the various grammatical and discourse constraints that affect acceptability in Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VPE), only the structural parallelism constraint is unique to VPE. We outline (previously noted) systematic problems that arise for classical structural accounts of VPE resolution, and discuss efforts in recent research on VPE to reduce explanations of acceptability in VPE to general well-formedness constraints at the level of information structure [e.g. Kehler, 2000, 2002, Kertz, 2013, Kehler, 2015]. In two magnitude estimation experiments, we show that — in line with Kehler’s predictions — degradation due to structural mismatch is modulated by coherence relation. On the other hand, we consistently find residual structural mismatch effects, suggesting that the interpretation of VPE is sensitive to structural features of the VPE antecedent. We propose that a structural constraint licenses VPE, but that sentences violating this constraint can nevertheless be interpreted. The variability in acceptability is accounted for not by additional constraints on VPE in the grammar, but by the numerous general biases that affect sentence and discourse well-formedness, such as information structural constraints [as proposed by Kertz, 2013], discourse coherence relations Kehler [2000], sensitivity to Question Under Discussion structure [e.g. Ginzburg and Sag, 2000, Kehler, 2015], and thematic role bias at the lexical level [e.g. McRae et al., 1998]. We test the prediction that thematic role bias (Experiment 3) and QUD structure (Experiment 4) will influence both elliptical and non-elliptical sentences alike, while structural mismatch continues to degrade elliptical sentences alone. Our proposal differs from existing proposals in cutting the explanatory pie in a different way with respect to how variations in acceptability are accounted for. We suggest that degradation can result from at least two distinct and separable sources: violating construction-specific grammatical constraints, or from complexity differences in interpretation related to very general discourse level information.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled keywords: Verb Phrase ellipsis; parallelism; Coherence; discourse structure; syntactic identity; acceptability
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PE English
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of European Culture and Languages > English Language and Linguistics
Depositing User: Christina Kim
Date Deposited: 17 Jul 2017 14:48 UTC
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2017 14:18 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
ORCiD (Kim, Christina S.):
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