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Effects of discourse on control 1

  • VIKKI JANKE (a1) and LAURA R. BAILEY (a1)

This study examined discourse effects on obligatory and non-obligatory control interpretations. Seventy participants undertook three online forced-choice surveys, which monitored preferred interpretations in complement control, verbal gerund subject control, long-distance control and sentence-final temporal adjunct control. Survey 1 ascertained their baseline interpretations of the empty category in these constructions. Survey 2 primed the critical sentences used in survey 1 with a weakly established topic of discourse and survey 3 primed them with a strongly established one. Reference assignment in complement control remained consistent across all three conditions, illustrating that pragmatics does not infiltrate this structurally regulated and syntactically unambiguous construction. Changes in interpretation were found in the remaining three constructions. An accessibility-motivated scale of influence, combining three independent discourse factors (topichood, competition and linear distance) was created to model reference determination in verbal gerund subject control and long-distance control. The results for temporal adjunct control are novel. They revealed a much stronger susceptibility to pragmatic interference than that reported in the literature yet the construction behaved differently from non-obligatory control under discourse pressure. We propose a structural account for sentence-final temporal adjunct control, which permits the evident interpretation shift while still excluding arbitrary and sentence-external interpretations.

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Author’s address: Department of English Language and Linguistics, Rutherford College, School of European Culture and Languages, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NX, UK
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We are particularly indebted to the 70 participants who were patient enough to fill in three questionnaires. For generous comments on a first draft, we thank Marco Tamburelli and are also grateful for subsequent comments from or conversations with Annabel Cormack, Cécile De Cat, Anders Holmberg, Ad Neeleman, Michelle Sheehan and Neil Smith. We also profited from Christina Kim’s and Tamara Rathcke’s stats advice. Finally, we gratefully acknowledge the constructive and detailed comments from three anonymous Journal of Linguistics referees.

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