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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractIn natural language processing subject-verb agreement sometimes derails yielding ungrammatical sentences such as *The cost of the programs have not yet been estimated. In light of questions concerning the semantic versus syntactic nature of sentence subjects and the interactivity of language processing, researchers have investigated the occurrence and possible causes of erroneous agreement. In complex subject noun phrases such as The cost of the programs, the plurality of the noun in the lower clause has been shown to significantly affect the frequency of subject-verb agreement errors. This effect has been shown in English (Bock and Miller, 1991) and in Italian and Spanish (Vigliocco et al., 1995 and 1996). More importantly, a cross-linguistic difference appears with respect to distributivity, the semantic notion of plurality represented in a singular complex subject noun phrase. The phrase The label on the bottles can have a multiple token interpretation where several instances of the same label are conceptualized. Native (L1) English speakers show no effect for distributivity in light of subject-verb agreement errors, whereas L1 speakers of Italian and Spanish do. The primary question addressed in the current study is the following: Do the subject-verb agreement errors of non-native (L2) speakers of Spanish pattern in the same way as those of L1 speakers of Spanish, particularly with respect to distributivity? The results of the current study indicate that at least some L2 speakers of Spanish are sensitive to the effects of distributivity when processing subject-verb agreement. It is argued that the observed cross-linguistic variation with respect to the effect of distributivity on subject-verb agreement is attributable to differences in processing load resulting from cross-linguistic configurational variation within the subject noun phrase.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Second Language Acquisition and Teaching