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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The real-time comprehension of WH-dependencies in a WH-agreement language

  • Author(s): Wagers, Matthew
  • Borja, Manuel F
  • Chung, Sandra
  • et al.

In the verb-initial language Chamorro, an Austronesian language of the Mariana Islands, wh- dependencies exhibit a special verbal inflection known as wh-agreement: verbs along the path of the wh-dependency are inflected for the grammatical relation of the gap and the intermediate landing sites of the filler. Two on-line comprehension experiments conducted in the Northern Mariana Islands reveal that the morphological paradigm of wh-agreement affects the timing of dependency formation and interpretation in this language. Overt wh-agreement facilitates the for- mation of a wh-dependency. When overt wh-agreement could occur but does not, however, its ab- sence delays and attenuates wh-dependency formation. In short, morphological information exerts a powerful influence on the unfolding parse, one that has temporal priority over syntactic information, such as word order, and semantic information, such as argument structure.

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