Lexical Fillers Permit Real-Time Gap-Search inside Island Domains

Volume 15
Issue 1
Oliver Boxell
It has often been reported that lexical fillers (e.g. which house) improve the overall acceptability of many island constraint violations relative to bare fillers (e.g. what). The current study attempts to test for the first time whether lexical fillers reduce real-time sensitivity to wh-islands as well. Results from an eyetracking-while-reading study are reported that demonstrate native English speakers’ sensitivity to a plausibility manipulation between a fronted filler phrase and a downstream subcategorizing verb inside a wh-island domain. The effect is found as the verb was encountered in real-time, and only when the filler element contains lexical information, not when it is bare. This is taken to show that online sensitivity to the wh-island constraint is reduced when the filler preceding it is lexical. The strengths and weaknesses and overall compatibility of a range of grammatical and processing theories are considered in relation to this finding.

Key words: Sentence processing, wh-island constraints, lexical fillers