Experimental syntax and island effects: Toward a comprehensive theory of islands
Experimental Syntax and Island Effects
Introduction One of the most pervasive properties of human language is the existence of dependencies: necessary relationships that hold between two elements in a sentence. The primary objects of study in this volume are long-distance "fillergap" dependencies -a special subset of dependencies that are not constrained by standard measures of length such as number of words or number of clauses. For example, wh-questions in English (1) contain a long-distance dependency between the wh-word at the
... he wh-word at the beginning of the sentence and a theta-role assigning element (such as a verb or preposition) later in the sentence that selects the wh-word as a semantic argument. We will adopt a relatively theory-neutral terminology and call the end of this dependency the gap position, indicated by an underscore in examples. The pattern in (1a-1c) suggests that long-distance dependency between wh-words and gap positions in English can be separated by any number of embedded sentences: 1 (1) a. What does Susan think that John bought __? b. What does Sarah believe that Susan thinks that John bought __? c. What does Bill claim that Sarah believes that Susan thinks that John bought __? Although wh-dependencies tend to be used as the canonical example of longdistance dependencies in the linguistic literature, there are many different constructions in the world's languages that contain long-distance dependencies. For example, other English long-distance dependencies include relativization (2a), topicalization (2b), adjective-though constructions (2c), and various types of clefts (2d), among others: 1 Clearly there is an upper limit to the length of sentences that a human speaker can understand. However, this is true of sentences that contain long-distance dependencies and sentences that do not, suggesting that the eventual parsing failure is not due to the presence of long-distance dependencies. Instead, it is likely a consequence of the limited memory resources available for tracking the entities and relationships described by the sentence.