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Event structure and English pronoun choice, Dr. Shannon Bryant, (Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science, RuCCS, Rutgers University, New Brunswick)

Tuesday, March 28, 2023, 02:00pm - 03:20pm

152 Frelinghuysen Rd, Psych Bldg. Room 105

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ABSTRACT: In English, as in many languages, both reflexive pronouns (e.g., herself) and personal pronouns (e.g., her) can be used to refer to someone who was previously mentioned in a sentence. This raises an interesting question for language researchers: how do speakers choose which form to use? Ample work in theoretical linguistics has shown that the choice between pronoun forms depends at least in part on the syntactic configuration in which the pronoun is found. However, there are corners of language that have proven troublesome for purely syntactic theories of pronoun choice, in particular those places that appear to permit either form. This talk will focus on one such place, locative prepositional phrases (LPPs), as in Michele set a glass next to her(self). Drawing on experimental evidence, I show that pronoun choice in LPPs crucially depends on three factors relating to the nature of the event described by the sentence: whether the event involves motion, whether the LPP expresses direct contact, and prior expectations about how the event will unfold. In this way, pronoun choice in English LPPs offers a look into how the way we think about events shapes the way we talk about events.

Bio: Shannon received her PhD in Linguistics from Harvard University. She works at the interface of syntax and semantics, with a particular interest in the interplay between language and concepts. Drawing from a mix of experimental methods and theoretical perspectives, her research addresses questions like: How does the architecture of human language reflect the way we mentally model the world around us? How do the grammatical choices we encounter help shape the mental models we build? What are the basic building blocks of linguistic meaning, and how are these building blocks bundled up across languages? Specific topics she has worked on include binding and reflexivity, argument structure, clausal complementation, and attitude reports.