Homework: Representation and Experimentation

Utku Turk

17 Jan 2022

Homework: Representation and Experimentation

Class:: Psycholinguistics II

Date:: January 27

[[Homework MOC]] [[Representation & Experimentation]]

Question 1: The finding by Bock & Loebell (1990) about priming and by-phrases (see Section 2.1, p. 8) is among the most influential in this literature. Why so? Is this fame justified?

Answer: Bock & Loebell (1990) showed that intransitive sentences with locative by-phrases as in “The foreigner was loitering by the broken traffic light” primed transitive passive sentences as in “The boy was woken by an alarm clock.” Many syntax theories at the time were assuming multiple syntactic heads that differentiate these two sentences. In addition to the syntactic heads, these syntax theories would assume that the passive sentence and the active sentence are different from each other with respect to their syntactic state. The findings of BL (1990) challenge these accounts. The structure of these sentences are similar enough to trigger prime. I believe the data is fascinating, given that there is no semantic or syntactic resemblance between these sentences. However, I also wonder where this is leading us? I do not think “priming” is innocent, meaning it is not free of other limitations of the brain. So, I do not think it reflects the way our linguistic representations are formed. Also, I believe the generative grammar enterprise is still more well-articulated than what priming is reaching when it comes to linguistic representations. So, while I do think fame is justified, the hype is not.

Question 2: What do B&P mean by “The reality of linguistic representation” (p. 3)?

Answer: The reality in this phrase means the reflection of linguistic representation in real-life or representations in language use, rather than implicit and undetectable structures. They assume that anything that is related to language cannot be independent of human mind. Since they will be always in a relationship with other parts of the human mind, we need to observe some interactions between language and other faculties in the brain.

Question 3: What is the role of the evidence from missing (“elided”) elements in Mandarin (p. 10)?

Answer: The theory that BP was building was specifically hostile towards empty elements, such as traces or copies. However, from the beginning of the paper, they carefully specified that this ban was only relevant for traces that are due to movements that are one of the most basic components of transformational theories. Mandarin data clearly shows that not all traces are equal. Some are more psychologically real than others. Mandarin full DPs primed structures in which the DP is elided, showing that structure-wise, DP is represented even though it is not phonologically represented.

Yet again, not all “elisions” are equal. Elided VPs were not primed by the full VP in Mandarin. All these data helped them to build their syntactic theory that they wanted to use.

My take: I am honestly indifferent to this type of discussion. To me, it seems like a very reasonable school of thought to advocate for. At the end, it is falsifiable, it is improvable. It has a certain stand that creates more and more discussions. I think the main idea behind this paper should be in mind whenever people are doing linguistic, psycholinguistic, neurolinguistic work. It may end up absolutely false, we may have thousands of weighted Grammars, some of which are terribly multi-levelled, even more complicated than transformational theories. As of now, we better theorize. I just wish that they would be less verbal with their theory and more definite with their assumptions.