[PS-2.50] NP Ellipsis and Agreement Attraction

Kim, N. . , Brehm, L. & Yoshida, M. .

Northwestern University

What information in the antecedent is retrieved when an ellipsis construction is processed? To answer this, we investigated the processing of NP-ellipsis (NPE) constructions like (1). When the parser identifies the ellipsis site, it retrieves something about the antecedent NP (NPA). This might include the structure of the whole NPA, or only information about the head. We conducted a self-paced reading experiment to determine how much information is retrieved.

(1) Derek's [NPA key to the boxes] might be on the table and Mary's [NPE ___ ] are on the carpet.

In a 2x2x2 factorial design, the plurality of the NP inside the PP, the local NP (e.g., box: plural/singular), NP-ellipsis (e.g., Mary's {___/key to the boxes}: ellipsis/non-ellipsis) and grammaticality of the subject-verb number agreement (e.g., are/is: plural/singular) were manipulated as independent factors. The results showed that elided NPs, much like non-elided NPs, show agreement attraction. There was a significant interaction at the verb region, where the verb in plural/ungrammatical conditions were read significantly slower than plural/grammatical conditions, within both the ellipsis and non-ellipsis conditions. The results argue that the whole structure of the NPA is retrieved, triggering agreement attraction.