Inactive gap formation: An ERP study on the processing of extraction from adjunct clauses

Annika Kohrt, Trey Sorensen, Peter O'Neill, Dustin A. Chacón


Filler-gap (movement, extraction, displacement) dependencies are processed actively, i.e., comprehenders anticipatorily commit to an interpretation of the sentence before encountering bottom-up evidence. This suggests that comprehenders make structural commitments to how a sentence will unfold shortly after encountering a filler NP. However, the grammaticality of some filler-gap dependencies may depend on semantic and pragmatic features of the sentence that are not typically considered in studies on filler-gap dependencies. One particular case is extraction from adjunct clauses, in which the filler NP may only grammatically be understood as the object of a non-finite adjunct clause if the main verb is an achievement predicate (e.g., What coffee did you arrive [ drinking ]? (Truswell 2011). We present evidence from an EEG study demonstrating that comprehenders do not actively construct filler-gap dependencies in constructions such as these. Instead, they “inactively” build the dependency, only after integrating semantic information about the adjunct clause into the sentence.


psycholinguistics; semantics; syntax; neurolinguistics; filler-gap dependencies; islands; EEG

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Copyright (c) 2020 Annika Kohrt, Trey Sorensen, Peter O'Neill, Dustin A. Chacón

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