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Is Passive Syntax Semantically Constrained? Evidence From Adult Grammaticality Judgment and Comprehension Studies

Ambridge, B, Bidgood, A, Pine, JM, Rowland, CF and Freudenthal, D (2015) Is Passive Syntax Semantically Constrained? Evidence From Adult Grammaticality Judgment and Comprehension Studies. Cognitive science, 40 (6). pp. 1435-1459. ISSN 0364-0213

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Open Access URL: https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12277 (Published version)


To explain the phenomenon that certain English verbs resist passivization (e.g., *£5 was cost by the book), Pinker (1989) proposed a semantic constraint on the passive in the adult grammar: The greater the extent to which a verb denotes an action where a patient is affected or acted upon, the greater the extent to which it is compatible with the passive. However, a number of comprehension and production priming studies have cast doubt upon this claim, finding no difference between highly affecting agent-patient/theme-experiencer passives (e.g., Wendy was kicked/frightened by Bob) and non-actional experiencer theme passives (e.g., Wendy was heard by Bob). The present study provides evidence that a semantic constraint is psychologically real, and is readily observed when more fine-grained independent and dependent measures are used (i.e., participant ratings of verb semantics, graded grammaticality judgments, and reaction time in a forced-choice picture-matching comprehension task). We conclude that a semantic constraint on the passive must be incorporated into accounts of the adult grammar.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Humans; Language; Language Development; Comprehension; Judgment; Psycholinguistics; Vocabulary; Adult; Agent-patient; Autonomy of syntax; Child language acquisition; Experiencer-theme; Passive; Semantics; Theme-experiencer; Verb; Adult; Comprehension; Humans; Judgment; Language; Language Development; Psycholinguistics; Vocabulary; Experimental Psychology; 0801 Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing; 1701 Psychology; 1702 Cognitive Sciences
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Divisions: Psychology (new Sep 2019)
Publisher: Wiley
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2022 11:02
Last Modified: 04 Aug 2022 11:02
DOI or Identification number: 10.1111/cogs.12277
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/17341

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