There have been a myriad of attempts to account for constraints on long-distance dependencies (LDDs), particularly so-called “island constraints,” such as those illustrated in Table 10. 1. The present paper provides evidence that the functions of the constructions involved play a key role in LDD constraints. Traditional accounts of constraints such as those provided in Table 10.1 have appealed to syntax as an explanation (see section 12). More recently, there has been a resurgence of processing explanations for many types of violations (section 11). The present account focuses on the fact that the information structure properties of the constructions involved play a crucial role. That is, each construction in a language is used for particular purposes and not others. For example, the passive serves to topicalize an argument that is not normally a subject and/or to de-emphasize the argument that normally is the subject. Relative clauses serve to help identify or modify an argument. Argument structure constructions convey who did what to whom, and often constrain which arguments can be topical or focal. Wh-questions serve to request information about a particular focused argument or adjunct. These sorts of functions – specifically clashes between functions when constructions are combined to form utterances – are what give rise to constraints on LDDs. If we consider the island violations in Table 10.1, it is clear that the judgments in the case of complex NPs and subject islands are more robust, and less dependent on context, than in either of the latter two instances, both of which are marginally acceptable. It turns out that there is a cline of acceptability, at least in certain cases, and the information structure account predicts such graded judgments. This is discussed in more depth in section 4.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- General Social Sciences