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



Ambridge, Ben ORCID: 0000-0003-2389-8477, Bidgood, Amy ORCID: 0000-0002-9719-4256, Pine, Julian ORCID: 0000-0002-7077-9713, Rowland, Caroline and Freudenthal, Daniel
(2016) Is Passive Syntax Semantically Constrained? Evidence From Adult Grammaticality Judgment and Comprehension Studies. Cognitive Science, 40 (06). 1435 - 1459.

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Abstract

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: Child language acquisition, Passive, Verb, Semantics, Autonomy of syntax, Theme-experiencer, Experiencer-theme, Agent-patient
Subjects: ?? BF ??
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Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 09 Feb 2016 16:09
Last Modified: 13 May 2021 18:12
DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12277
Related URLs:
URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/2050521