English fragments, Minimize Domains, and Minimize Forms

Joanna Nykiel 

(joint work with John A. Hawkins; paper in press for Language and Cognition)

We offer an account of preposition drop under clausal ellipsis (A: I'm going to a wedding. B: Whose wedding?/To whose wedding? ) in terms of two language processing principles, Minimize Domains and Minimize Forms. We argue that when Minimize Domains operates within the PP domain, it disfavors preposition drop due to the preferred independent processability of the PP fragment. When it operates within the VP domain it favors preposition drop in proportion to the number and strength of semantic dependencies between V and P in a given language: the more dependencies there are, and the stronger they are, the stronger the preference for preposition drop. In this way fragments are avoided with long dependencies between P and a distant V. We demonstrate this pattern in English corpora and propose it as an explanation for the typologically unusual preference that English shows for NP fragments. Minimize Forms supports preposition drop in easy-to-process environments cross-linguistically and in English when the more minimal fragment (NP) can be easily linked to its correlate in the antecedent, disfavoring preposition drop elsewhere. The predictions of Minimize Domains and Minimize Forms receive support from a mixed-effects regression model fitted to data from spoken U.S. English, and can be understood as motivations for construction-specific constraints and preferences in clausal ellipsis. We also offer directions for future cross-linguistic research on preposition drop under clausal ellipsis, using Bayes' theorem (a project on Danish is ongoing with Jacob Thaisen).

Published Feb. 27, 2020 4:48 PM - Last modified Feb. 27, 2020 4:48 PM