The Production of Different Word Orders: A Psycholinguistic and Developmental Approach
Sala, Merce P
This thesis is primarily concerned with language production. In particular it investigates two issues: First, it explores some of the processing mechanisms underlying the production of different syntactic structures and word orders. Second, it explores the production of different syntactic structures and word order from a developmental perspective. These two issues are investigated experimentally and from a cross-linguistic point of view. First, a description is given of the possible word order permutations that Catalan allows and under which circumstances these word orders are produced. This is extended with a corpus analysis of spoken Catalan. The aim of this study is twofold: on the one hand, it aims to present the different positions where subjects and complements of the verb can appear in a sentence. On the other, it aims to compare the use of passivization between spoken and newspaper text in Catalan. Second, my experimental work in language production in four languages is presented. These languages include English, Brazilian Portuguese, Catalan and Spanish. The main aim of this study is to explore the effects of the non-linguistic factors of animacy and frequency upon the production of different word orders. The results of four experiments in the four languages mentioned yield evidence that these non-linguistic factors affect the on-line processing of language production. In the four languages, participants tend to prefer to produce syntactic structures which allow animate entities to be realised as the sentential subject, even if this means producing a passive structure rather than a (usually preferred) active structure. I have also found evidence that in some languages (e.g. Catalan and Spanish) animate/frequent entities appear at initial sentence position in the grammatical category of object (in dislocated active constructions). These results are explained on the light of some of the models of language production (e.g. Bock 1987a; Bock and Levelt 1994). Third, further cross-linguistic experiments in three languages (English, Catalan and Spanish) are presented. There I show that one particular contextual factor, discourse salience, can also affect the realisation of different syntactic structures during production. Entities which have been made more salient by the preceding context are more likely to appear as sentential subjects or in early sentential positions than entities which have also been introduced in previous discourse but are less salient. I suggest that these effects can be explained using the same mechanisms that explain other non-linguistic factors (e.g. animacy). The results also suggest that in the absence of context, animacy is a strong determinant of syntactic structure and word order, whereas in context, discourse salience may largely override animacy effects. Finally, these results suggest that from a processing point of view, the Given/New partition is not enough to account for the information structure of a sentence, but a more fine-grained distinction is need, in keeping with some recent pragmatic theories (e.g. Prince 1981, 1992; Sgall et al. 1986). Finally, I investigate the production of different word orders from a developmental point of view. In particular I examine the relationship between age and the production of different word orders by Catalan children, ranging from 4;11 to 11;11 years. The results of an experiment run with these children show that a dislocated active is a construction already consolidated at age 5. In contrast, the passive clause is a construction still not fully acquired at age 11. These results seem to suggest that for Catalan children, a dislocated active is a syntactic structure that is available earlier than the passive structure. Conversely, the placement of a patient in subject position and the creation of a verbal passive voice occurs later than simple word order permutation. Finally, a comparison between these results and existing results from English children shows that there are cross-linguistic differences on the age of production of passive clauses: while English children already produce passives at age 5, Catalan children start producing passives at age 11. I suggest some possible explanations for the cross-linguistic differences in the production of different syntactic structures. Overall, the main aim for this study is to gain insight into the production of different syntactic structures and word orders from a psycholinguistic and developmental point of view.