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Colloquium: Patrick Sturt (University of Edinburgh) - Agreement attraction in English and Korean

When: Monday, April 3, 2017
3:30 PM - 5:30 PM Central

Where: Kresge Hall, 1-515, 1880 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Kathleen Gale Hall  

Group: Linguistics Department

Category: Academic


An overview of a recent project that examine verb-subject agreement attraction in English and Korean. In comprehension, attraction effects typically show up as a reduced processing cost for an agreement violation in the presence of a feature-matching attractor (e.g. Wagers et al, 2009). For example, although (1) is ungrammatical, processing difficulty is ameliorated, due to the feature match between "were" and the plural distractor ("the widows"):

(1) The nurse who the widows relied on definitely were reluctant to work long shifts.

According to cue-based retrieval models (e.g. Lewis, R. and Vasishth, S, 2005), one of the factors that affects the degree of attraction is the distractor’s activation level, relative to that of the agreement target. In a series of English eye-tracking studies, we examine this factor by examining how the distractor's activation is affected as a function of (a) the relative linear order of distractor and target, and (b) active dependencies between the distractor and an upcoming verb, at the point where the agreement has to be computed.

In a second series of studies, using ERP and eye-tracking, we examine the processing of Korean subject-verb honorific agreement. In Korean, the verbal suffix ("-si-") may only appear when the verb's subject is a target of respect (e.g. "professor", "grandfather"), leading to a violation when the subject is (a) low social status (e.g. "kid") or (b) a 1st person pronoun. A series of eye-tracking studies shows robust attraction effects, with a pattern that is very similar to what is found for English agreement attraction: processing difficulty for a violation of honorific agreement is decreased when the context includes a distractor phrase that denotes a respectable person.

I will consider these results in the context of the wider literature on agreement attraction, and discuss the implications for how dependency formation might interact with memory access.

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