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Filler-gap dependencies in a null subject language: Referential and nonreferential WHs

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The work presented here is part of a research project on the on-line parsing of Italian sentences. In particular, I will discuss the processing of wh-questions with nonreferential (who) and referential (which-N) wh-items, which, following the analyses of Rizzi (1988) and Cinque (1989), are also distinguishable by the presence or absence of a chain relationship between the wh-item and the gap position. The hypothesis was that, in the case of chain length ambiguity, the parser will always choose the shortest one. This preference is expressed in the minimal chain principle (MCP), a principle that applies to the S-structure, determining the decisions made at ambiguous points and the complexity of unambiguous sentences. The results show that readers are sensitive to chain complexity, in that, following MCP, they always choose the shortest chain. The results are also in line with Cinque's analysis of the difference between classes of quantifiers, in that the MCP applies only to the quantifier who.

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Correspondence to Marica De Vincenzi.

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De Vincenzi, M. Filler-gap dependencies in a null subject language: Referential and nonreferential WHs. J Psycholinguist Res 20, 197–213 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01067215

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  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Chain Length
  • Short Chain
  • Chain Complexity
  • Subject Language