Current Projects

Resumptive pronouns and structural complexity in Cantonese relative clauses

(Francis, Lam, Zheng, Hitz, and Matthews)

Hawkins (2004, Efficiency and Complexity in Grammars, Oxford University Press) predicts that when the grammar of a language permits the option of either a resumptive pronoun or a gap within a relative clause, resumptive pronouns should be used more often as structural complexity increases. Results of two experiments, an elicited production task and an acceptability judgment task, affirm Hawkins’ prediction for Cantonese: resumptive pronouns were used more often and rated as more acceptable as the complexity of the relative clause increased from subject to direct object to coverb object and from non-possessive to possessive. Furthermore, resumptive pronoun use was apparently not governed by categorical grammatical rules. Resumptive pronouns were sometimes used in subject relatives (contrary to the usual restriction on highest subject position) and sometimes omitted in coverb object relatives (contrary to a proposed adjunct island condition). Implications for theories of grammatical competence are considered.

Effects of weight and definiteness on speakers’ choice of clausal ordering in English

(Francis and Michaelis)

Why should English speakers sometimes prefer a discontinuous structure as in (1) when an adjacent ordering can express the same meaning?

(1) Some research was conducted that refutes the existing theories with convincing evidence.

This study examines the effects of definiteness (a correlate of discourse status) and constituent length on speakers’ choice of clausal ordering. The first experiment measured structural preference in reading (Rosenbach 2005), while the second and third experiments measured structural preference in production (Stallings et al 1998). These experiments establish independent effects of length and definiteness on speakers’ ordering preference, with the exact length effect differing depending on the task. The findings here corroborate those of an earlier corpus study which examined several factors contributing the relative clause extraposition in spontaneous discourse (Francis and Michaelis 2014).

Cartographic approach to syntax and discourse of Shanghainese sentence final particles


This Master’s Thesis project focuses on the syntactic behavior of sentence final particles (SFP’s) in Shanghainese (上海话) including: status in the lexicon,syntactic category, placement/ ordering in the numeration, possible feature inventory, position in the structure and movement, and the existence of discourse related functional heads or Speech Act shells (Haegeman 2014). Particular interest is reserved for so called ‘evidential’ particles, which encode meta-information about a speaker’s subjective attitude or presuppositions about the data contained within either a singular utterance or a section of discourse.

Syntactic representation of motion events in Cantonese, Mandarin, and Chaoshan Hua


Following the framework of Generative–constructivist grammar (Ramchand 2008), I propose a syntactic representation for motion event predicates, as well as their structural relationship with event participants, in three Chinese languages: Chaoshan (潮汕), Cantonese, and Mandarin. Argument structure can be understood via compositional derivation of event structure and hierarchical ordering of functional eventive projections via the syntactic operation “merge and move.” Along with encyclopedic concepts associated with verbal roots, this structure composes the meanings of motion event predicates. In this study, I posit that the predicate and argument structure of motion events can be derived from four layers of functional projections that license eventive interpretation: Cause, Initiate, Process Phrase and Resultaive Phrases. Data on motion event expressions in these languages support this proposal by displaying the process of complex event composition transparently in the syntactic configuration, sharing the same inventory of building blocks and subject to head-selection constraints.

Boundedness of verbal and adjectival predicates in Mandarin


This study reformulates previous boundedness account for ba-construction in Mandarin and extends the account to transitive comparatives and hypothesizes that the selection in ba-construction and transitive comparatives constrained by boundedness, where boundedness can be manifested in terms of telicity of VPs, quantization of internal arguments or measure phrases.
The experimental study aims to test the boundedness hypothesis by collecting data of speakers’ acceptability judgment and interpretation to the sentences (the latter through a picture-selection task). Participants are asked to judge the sentences by acceptability and then indicate their interpretation to the entailment of the sentences. It is predicted the bounded predicates would be rated more acceptable in certain word orders.
This generalized account shows how formal semantic properties affect syntactic selection and explains some sentences that existing accounts do not. Also, the proposal implicates a homomorphic syntax-semantics mapping across V and A categories, which is superior than category-specific theories.

Effects of Complexity and L1 Transfer on the Acceptability of Relative Clauses in English, Mandarin Chinese, and Turkish

(Hitz and Francis)

An English-language acceptability judgment task was conducted to test whether L2 learners would find ungrammatical resumptive pronouns in non-subject relative clauses more acceptable than in subject relative clauses (a complexity effect) and whether L1 Chinese speakers would find resumptive pronouns in English relative clauses more acceptable than L1 Turkish speakers (an L1 transfer effect). The results showed that both learner groups found resumptive pronouns in non-subject positions more acceptable than in subject position (unlike the native speaker control group), but that there were no differences between the two learner groups. There appeared to be some evidence for complexity, and no evidence for L1 transfer. However, two native-language acceptability judgment tasks in Turkish and Mandarin Chinese were also conducted, revealing that contrary to previous linguistic analyses, Turkish and Mandarin differed little from each other. Thus, the results of the English-language task turned out to be ambiguous with respect to complexity and transfer accounts.

Purdue Experimental Linguistics Lab, Purdue University, Heavilon Hall, West Lafayette, IN 47907