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Limited, Syntactic Reactivation in Noun Phrase Ellipsis

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

A long-standing question concerning ellipsis considers the nature of the representations that mediate interpretation at ellipsis sites. The present study asks what kind of material contained in the representation is used in real-time ellipsis processing.

A probe is needed to investigate the nature of the reactivated representation. Number features are used, as these can feed agreement attraction (AA), a process sensitive to morpho-syntactic information. In AA, an intervening, plural NP—the attractor—agrees with the verb as opposed to the singular, head noun containing it.

[The key(Head Noun) to [the cabinets(Attractor)]PL]SG werePL on the table.

When Noun Phrase Ellipsis (NPE) elides an AA-triggering NP, would an attractor in the antecedent generate attraction when reactivated at the ellipsis site? Depending on how exhaustive reactivation is, different sets of number features may be reactivated. If the antecedent were reactivated fully—including the attractor—attraction is predicted; but if reactivation is only partial—just the head noun—no attraction is predicted. Based on the results of four reading-time experiments examining NPE, the data support that reactivation at ellipsis sites is syntactic and partial.

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