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Poster D8, Thursday, November 9, 6:15 – 7:30 pm, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Incremental commitment and revision in Icelandic compound processing

Kaylin Smith1, Alicia Parrish1, Alan Beretta1;1Michigan State University

Recent studies on compound processing suggest that, while incrementally building syntactic structure, the parser makes temporary commitments and subsequent revisions to mistaken commitments (Staub et al., 2007; Whelpton et al., 2014). In Icelandic, a productive compounding language, there exists a unique compound structure ideally suited for investigating commitment and revision. This compound structure cannot exist in isolation as its construction is dependent on selectional restrictions imposed by a preceding verb. For example, 'milk glasses' can have two syntactic structures—both semantically plausible and grammatical—with the use of different verbs: (a) 'She ingested milk glasses' and (b) 'She scratched milk glasses'. In (b), 'milk glasses' has a canonical compound structure, in which the second noun ('N2') is a semantic head, resulting in the following interpretation: “She scratched glasses used for milk”. In (a), 'milk glasses' has a statistically atypical compound structure. In (a), the first noun is the semantic head of the compound, while N2 acts as a classifier, resulting in the following interpretation: "She ingested glasses’ worth of milk". Since the standard compound structure in (b) has a semantic head at N2, but (a) does not, (a) should undergo syntactic revision after the arrival of N2. Results of a recent ERP study in Icelandic (Trotter et al., submitted) demonstrated just that. Given the important status of the verb in the construction of the statistically atypical compound structure in (a), we set out to investigate whether using different verbs in (a) and (b) confound the revision which occurs at N2. We investigated this possibility by comparing (a) with a condition which uses the same verb, but reveals a standard compound structure at N2: (c) ‘She ingested milk puddings’. Native Icelandic speakers read 40 sentences per condition in a 2x2 design (semantically plausible/implausible at first noun x functional/lexical head at second noun) and completed a yes/no comprehension task while event-related potentials were recorded. Stimuli were presented via Rapid Serial Visual Presentation for 350ms with an ISI of 350ms (SOA 700ms), with compound constituents presented separately. Two ROIs were constructed: Anteriority (2: Anterior, Posterior). Condition (a) was more positive when compared to condition (c) in the posterior electrodes, which we interpret as an effect of syntactic revision upon receiving a classifier, rather than a semantic head, at N2. This result provides further support for an incremental model of compound processing, under which the parser makes temporary commitments to the compound’s structure and then revises mistaken commitments. More importantly, this result suggests that, although the verb plays a role in the construction of the atypical compound structure, verb choice does not account for the costly syntactic revision that occurs when encountering a unique, atypical compound.

Topic Area: Grammar: Syntax

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