Resumptive Pronouns

Generally, the syntax literature reports that resumptive pronouns (RPs) ameliorate the unacceptability of island violations, but much of the psycholinguistic literature has found RPs to be no more acceptable than straightforwardly island-violating gaps.

(1a.) * Which manᵢ did Jane say that [the parent who scolded    ᵢ] forgave the babysitter’s mistake?

(1b.) ? Which manᵢ did Jane say that [the parent who scolded himᵢ] forgave the babysitter’s mistake?

This is in spite of the fact that island production tasks consistently elicit RPs (e.g., Ferreira & Swets, 2005). However, prior psycholinguistic comprehension studies have typically compared RP and illicit gap conditions indirectly. This project posits that RP island amelioration during comprehension tasks is undetectable when subjects cannot engage in comparison of alternative sentences, and thus that the apparent production- comprehension split arises from methodological differences between perception and production experiments.

We find that the direct comparison of gap and RP alternatives consistently results in a significant preference for sentences with RPs within islands (but not outside islands). These results are confirmed in three different island types (relative clause islands, adjunct islands, and wh-islands) and in two different forced choice tasks (forced choice between two full-sentence alternatives and forced choice between two fill-in-the-blank alternatives).

  • Ackerman, L., M. Frazier, & M. Yoshida. (in press). Resumptive Pronouns Can Ameliorate Illicit Island Extractions. Linguistic Inquiry. [pdf]
  • Ackerman, L., M. Frazier, & M. Yoshida. (2015). Resumptive pronouns ameliorate island violations in forced-choice tasks. The 89th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA2015) – Portland, OR (January 2015). [oral presentation]
  • Ackerman, L., M. Frazier, & M. Yoshida. (2014). Resumptive Pronouns Ameliorate Island Violations in Forced-Choice Tasks. The 20th Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing (AMLaP) – Edinburgh (September 2014). [poster]
  • Ackerman, L., M. Frazier, & M. Yoshida. (2014). Resumptive pronouns salvage island violations in forced-choice tasks. The 27th Annual Conference On Human Sentence Processing (CUNY14) – Columbus, OH (March 2014). [poster]