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When Human Universal Meets Language Specific


In the broadest sense, this dissertation is an effort to better understand human linguistic capacity. Empirically, I focus on Tagalog filler-gap dependencies (FGDs) and how comprehenders understand them. To successfully interpret FGDs, comprehenders must encode in memory the elements that form the dependency, maintain the grammatical and thematic relations between these elements, and the licensing requirements of the elements encountered thus far throughout the course of interpretation. These are some of what we do when comprehending language more generally. What appears to be an effortless process is in fact a complex ability involving interactions between different classes of information---some linguistic, some, not.

The primary goal of this dissertation is to better understand the classes of linguistic information that comprehenders attend to and use when processing FGDs. I examine this question in two contexts: (i) the role of morphological information like voice morphology in the incremental processing of Tagalog FGDs; and (ii) the role of syntactic information like word order, as well as the role of intervening linguistic material and linguistic experience, in relative clause processing. The secondary goal of this dissertation is to contribute to the growing efforts to incorporate data from "smaller" languages in psycholinguistic research to directly address the lack of linguistic diversity that the field suffers from.

The main insight of this dissertation is that Tagalog, a language that is typologically different from the more familiar languages well-characterized in psycholinguistics, exhibits what seems to be universal properties of language comprehension: (i) comprehenders actively associate a filler to a gap even before the availability of disambiguating information; and (ii) they prefer relative clauses with subject gaps over relative clauses with object gaps. There are, however, language specific properties that can modulate how actively comprehenders link the filler to the gap---like finer grained information about the dependencies, for example---or that can attenuate the robust preference for subject gaps in relative clauses---like the relative order of the head noun and the relative clause, for instance.

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