Homework: Learning Wh-Gaps

Utku Turk

03 Feb 2022

Homework: Learning Wh-Gaps

Class:: Psycholinguistics II

Date:: February 03

[[Homework MOC]] [[Learning Wh-gaps]] [[Mentalistic Understanding of Transformations]]

Question 1: What should we conclude from the cross-language comparison between English and Japanese-speaking children?

Answer: Given the data and the experiments, both English and Japanese-speaking children employ the same mechanism for filler-gap dependencies. Both children groups try to associate wh-word with the first VP in the sentence and build the sentence incrementally. However, since the first VP in Japanese is the VP of the embedded sentence, Japanese children associate the wh-word with the embedded verb, which is not the case for English-speaking children. What I conclude is that the machinery behind is the same, but since the data is presented differently in different languages, the reflection of the machinery is different.

One question I had though, why they did not use Japanese sentences where the main verb is before the embedded sentence? I am guessing this scrambling is not available in Japanese. In Turkish, we can put the verb either before or after the embedded sentence. This would create a nice way to test whether this first-VP hypothesis is right in a within-subject design.

Question 2: Based on these findings, how serious is the risk that children misunderstand things that are said to them?

Answer: The misunderstood data-points were mostly on filled-gap conditions of experiment 3. The authors argue that, In those conditions, the embedded sentence already had a LOC-marked adjunct in the embedded sentence. For this reason, it should not be possible for children to associate wh-word with the embedded sentence. While adults did not associate the wh-word with the embedded sentence, children did so. Apart from these conditions, the risk of being misunderstood is relatively low. In all other occasions, children behaved very similarly to the adults.

One thing that worries me with this condition as well was the location of the embedded LOC-marked adjunct. It was immediately after the subject of the main subject. Even though the authors put pro between the adjunct and the matrix subject, in real life they are next to each other since pro is not phonologically overt. I do not know the nature of scrambling in Japanese, but in Turkish which is another scrambling language, I would be able to associate that adjunct with the matrix sentence. Even though adults in Japanese did not do this error, showing that it is not possible in Japanese, it might be the case that it is not “the” way to do this, and it might need very marked pragmatic environments. In this possible analysis, we cannot simply say that children were not able to use syntactic cues because the results would be also explainable by children’s inability to correctly assess pragmatic environments and associating Loc-marked adjunct with the matrix sentence.

Question 3: Some languages, e.g., Russian, are reported to severely limit long-distance wh-dependencies, such that “Where did Emily tell someone that she hurt herself?” can only be understood as a question about the telling event. In light of Omaki et al.’s findings: what would be needed for English and Russian-speaking children to correctly figure out whether their language allows long-distance wh-dependencies?

Answer: Omaki et al.’s findings showed us that children were not able to use syntactic cues very efficiently. Therefore, I believe, there must be other ways for Russian speakers to mark obligatoriness of the main-verb interpretation. One manipulation worked in the paper was implausibility-condition. Children behaved like adults and did not associate wh-word with the implausible embedded sentence. I guess Russian children have to see plausible embedded verbs with wh-words and understand that no one actually uses wh-words with embedded verbs even when they are plausible.