Control in free adjuncts: the 'dangling modifier' in English
In this dissertation, I present an account of the control of free adjuncts that relies on incremental processing. While many free adjuncts are controlled by the subject of the matrix clause (1a), this is not always the case. Some seem to be controlled by non-subject elements within the matrix clause (1b), others are apparently controlled by the discourse topic (1c), and still others involve the perceiver of the matrix clause in logophoric control (1d). These control patterns have raised the ire of many grammatical prescriptivists, who often label such constructions as ‘danglers’. (1) a. Turning the corner on his motorcycle, he saw a church. b. Turning the corner on his motorcycle, his grip began to slip. c. While under development, they put all other projects on hold. d. Turning the corner on my motorcycle, a church came into view. There have been several explanations of these patterns. Many researchers see free adjuncts as obligatorily controlled by the subject (1a) except where this is not possible, in which case logophoric control arises (1b,d). But such approaches cannot account for (1c), in which the controller is inanimate and thus incapable of perceiving anything. Other researchers regard non-subject control as the result of either an attempt to establish semantic coherence between two apparently unrelated clauses or an exhaustive search for alternative controllers based on a complex set of syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic clues. These approaches predict processing difficulty whenever a mismatch occurs, but most language users process sentences like (1b-d) fairly easily. My central claim is that the patterns found in adjunct control arise because the establishment of control continues throughout the process of understanding a given sentence. The language user, on encountering a free adjunct, guesses at a suitable controller. Disruption occurs when another potential controller arrives that is at least as adequate as the current guess. I support this claim through analysis of an extensive collection of attested examples, taking care to cover the relevant syntactic, semantic, pragmatic, and processing facts. I also emphasise how important it is for theoretical and descriptive studies to make specific predictions that could in principle be vindicated or falsified by future work in historical syntax or experimental psycholinguistics.