Colin Phillips

Colin Phillips
University of Maryland, College Park | UMD, UMCP, University of Maryland College Park · Department of Linguistics and Maryland Language Science Center

PhD

About

139
Publications
44,079
Reads
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6,930
Citations
Additional affiliations
August 2000 - present
University of Maryland, College Park
Position
  • Professor and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher
Description
  • Research and teaching at the intersection of linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience. Director of the Maryland Language Science Center (2013-present).
January 1997 - August 2000
University of Delaware
Position
  • Professor (Assistant)
September 1991 - August 1996
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Position
  • PhD Student
Education
September 1991 - August 1996
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Field of study
  • Linguistics
October 1986 - June 1990
University of Oxford
Field of study
  • Modern Languages (medieval German specialization)

Publications

Publications (139)
Preprint
Full-text available
Previous studies have shown that speakers of languages such as German, Spanish, and French reactivate the syntactic gender of the antecedent of a pronoun to license gender agreement. As syntactic gender is assumed to be stored in the lexicon, this has motivated the claim that pronouns in these languages reactivate the lexical entry of their anteced...
Preprint
Full-text available
Speech input is often understood to trigger rapid and automatic activation of successively higher-level representations for comprehension of words. Here we show evidence from magnetoencephalography that incremental processing of speech input is limited when words are heard in isolation as compared to continuous speech. This suggests a less unified...
Article
Full-text available
A number of languages, such as English, exhibit a grammaticality illusion in ungrammatical double center-embedding sentences where a VP is missing. This article shows that the illusion generalizes to ungrammatical Mandarin Chinese double center-embedding sentences where the head NP of a relative clause is missing. The Mandarin illusion raises inter...
Preprint
Better understanding of word recognition requires a detailed account of how top-down and bottom-up information are integrated. In this paper, we use a combination of modeling and experimental work to investigate the mechanism by which expectations from syntactic context influence the processing of perceptual input during word recognition. The disti...
Article
We report two experiments that suggest that syntactic category plays a key role in limiting competition in lexical access in speaking. We introduce a novel sentence-picture interference (SPI) paradigm, and we show that nouns (e.g., running as a noun) do not compete with verbs (e.g., walking as a verb) and verbs do not compete with nouns in sentence...
Article
Comparative constructions like More people have been to Russia than I have are reported to be acceptable and meaningful by native speakers of English; yet, upon closer reflection, they are judged to be incoherent. This mismatch between initial perception and more considered judgment challenges the idea that we perceive sentences veridically, and in...
Article
Much work has demonstrated that children are able to use bottom-up linguistic cues to incrementally interpret sentences, but there is little understanding of the extent to which children's comprehension mechanisms are guided by top-down linguistic information that can be learned from distributional regularities in the input. Using a visual world ey...
Preprint
Previous studies have found that English speakers experience attraction effects when comprehending subject-verb agreement, showing eased processing of ungrammatical sentences that contain a syntactically unlicensed but number-matching noun. In four self-paced reading experiments we examine whether attraction effects also occur in Spanish, a languag...
Article
Humans use their linguistic knowledge in at least two ways: on the one hand, to convey what they mean to others or to themselves, and on the other hand, to understand what others say or what they themselves say. In either case, they must assemble the syntactic structures of sentences in a systematic fashion, in accordance with the grammar of their...
Article
Linguistic analyses suggest that there are two types of intransitive verbs: unaccusatives, whose sole argument is a patient or theme (e.g., fall), and unergatives, whose sole argument is an agent (e.g., jump). ¹ Past psycholinguistic experiments suggest that this distinction affects how sentences are processed: for example, it modulates both compre...
Article
Full-text available
Comprehenders can use rich contextual information to anticipate upcoming input on the fly, but recent findings suggest that salient information about argument roles may not impact verb prediction. We took advantage of the word order properties of Mandarin Chinese to examine the time course with which argument role information impacts verb predictio...
Article
A critical flaw in Branigan & Pickering's (B&P's) advocacy of structural priming is the absence of a theory of priming. This undermines their claims about the value of priming as a methodology. In contrast, acceptability judgments enable clearer inferences about structure. It is important to engage thoroughly with the logic behind different structu...
Preprint
Comprehenders can use rich contextual information to anticipate upcoming input on the fly, but recent findings suggest that salient information about argument roles may not impact verb prediction. We took advantage of the word order properties of Mandarin Chinese to examine the time course with which argument role information impacts verb predictio...
Article
Full-text available
We investigated the processing of pronouns in Strong and Weak Crossover constructions as a means of probing the extent to which the incremental parser can use syntactic information to guide antecedent retrieval. In Experiment 1 we show that the parser accesses a displaced wh-phrase as an antecedent for a pronoun when no grammatical constraints proh...
Article
Many studies have shown that attraction effects are consistently found for linguistic dependencies like subject-verb agreement, e.g., *The key to the cabinets are on the table. However, not all dependencies are equally susceptible to attraction. A parade case involves reflexive-antecedent dependencies, which rarely show attraction effects. The cont...
Poster
Full-text available
In English, double center-embedding sentences with 3 noun phrase and 3 verb phrases are grammatical but perceived to be highly unacceptable across languages. However, omitting a verb phrase produces an ungrammatical sentence that is surprisingly acceptable. In this poster we show that omitting a noun phrase in Mandarin Chinese has the same acceptab...
Article
Full-text available
Previous studies have shown that speakers of languages such as German, Spanish, and French reactivate the syntactic gender of the antecedent of a pronoun to license gender agreement. As syntactic gender is assumed to be stored in the lexicon, this has motivated the claim that pronouns in these languages reactivate the lexical entry of their anteced...
Article
Linguistic illusions have provided valuable insights into how we mentally navigate complex representations in memory during language comprehension. Two notable cases involve illusory licensing of agreement and negative polarity items (NPIs), where comprehenders fleetingly accept sentences with unlicensed agreement or an unlicensed NPI, but judge th...
Article
Analyzing L2 sentence processing in terms of cue-based memory retrieval is promising. But this useful general framework has yet to become a specific theory of L1-L2 differences.
Article
Full-text available
Research on filler-gap dependencies has revealed that there are constraints on possible gap sites, and that real-time sentence processing is sensitive to these constraints. This work has shown that comprehenders have preferences for potential gap sites, and immediately detect when these preferences are not met. However, neither the mechanisms that...
Article
In our target article [Chow, W., Smith, C., Lau, E., & Phillips, C. (2015). A “bag-of-arguments” mechanism for initial verb predictions. Language, Cognition & Neuroscience. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/23273798.2015.1066832], we investigated the predictions that comprehenders initially make about an upcoming verb as they read and provide...
Article
Attempts to explain linguistic phenomena as consequences of memory constraints require detailed specification of linguistic representations and memory architectures alike. We discuss examples of supposed locality biases in language comprehension and production, and their link to memory constraints. Findings do not generally favor Christiansen & Cha...
Article
Language processing research is changing in two ways that should make it more relevant to the study of grammatical learning. First, grammatical phenomena are re-entering the psycholinguistic fray, and we have learned a lot in recent years about the real-time deployment of grammatical knowledge. Second, psycholinguistics is reaching more diverse pop...
Article
Many influential models of sentence production (e.g., Bock & Levelt, 1994; Kempen & Hoenkamp, 1987; Levelt, 1989) emphasize the central role of verbs in structural encoding, and thus predict that verbs should be selected early in sentence formulation, possibly even before the phonological encoding of the first constituent (Ferreira, 2000). However,...
Article
Full-text available
Previous studies have shown that comprehenders use rich contextual information to anticipate upcoming input on the fly, but less is known about how comprehenders integrate different sources of information to generate predictions in real time. The current study examines the time course with which the lexical meaning and structural roles of preverbal...
Article
Full-text available
Recent research on the memory operations used in language comprehension has revealed a selective profile of interference effects during memory retrieval. Dependencies such as subject–verb agreement show strong facilitatory interference effects from structurally inappropriate but feature-matching distractors, leading to illusions of grammaticality (...
Article
Full-text available
Much work has demonstrated that speakers of verb-final languages are able to construct rich syntactic representations in advance of verb information. This may reflect general architectural properties of the language processor, or it may only reflect a language-specific adaptation to the demands of verb-finality. The present study addresses this iss...
Article
Full-text available
Previous studies have found that English speakers experience attraction effects when comprehending subject–verb agreement, showing eased processing of ungrammatical sentences that contain a syntactically unlicensed but number-matching noun. In four self-paced reading experiments we examine whether attraction effects also occur in Spanish, a languag...
Article
Full-text available
We address two important questions about the relationship between theoretical linguistics and psycholinguistics. First, do grammatical theories and language processing models describe separate cognitive systems, or are they accounts of different aspects of the same system? We argue that most evidence is consistent with the one-system view. Second,...
Article
Full-text available
Much work on child sentence processing has demonstrated that children are able to use various linguistic cues to incrementally resolve temporary syntactic ambiguities, but they fail to use syntactic or interpretability cues that arrive later in the sentence. The present study explores whether children incrementally resolve filler-gap dependencies,...
Article
Full-text available
Because morphological and syntactic constraints govern the distribution of potential antecedents for local anaphors, local antecedent retrieval might be expected to make equal use of both syntactic and morphological cues. However, previous research (e.g., Dillon et al., 2013) has shown that local antecedent retrieval is not susceptible to the same...
Article
Full-text available
Real-time interpretation of pronouns is sometimes sensitive to the presence of grammatically-illicit antecedents and sometimes not. This occasional sensitivity has been taken as evidence that structural constraints do not immediately impact the initial antecedent retrieval for pronoun interpretation. We argue that it is important to separate effect...
Article
Full-text available
12 Much work has demonstrated that speakers of verb-final languages are able to construct rich 13 syntactic representations in advance of verb information. This may reflect general architectural 14 properties of the language processor, or it may only reflect a language-specific adaptation to the 15 demands of verb-finality. The present study addres...
Article
Full-text available
Filler-gap dependencies make strong demands on working memory in language comprehension because they cannot always be immediately resolved. In a series of three reading-time studies, we test the idea that these demands can be decomposed into active maintenance processes and retrieval events. Results indicate that the fact that a displaced phrase ex...
Article
This article reviews studies that have used experimental methods from psycholinguistics to address questions about the representation of sentences involving ellipsis. Accounts of the structure of ellipsis can be classified based on three choice points in a decision tree. First: does the identity constraint between antecedents and ellipsis sites app...
Article
Full-text available
The present study examined the processing of the Mandarin Chinese long-distance reflexive ziji to evaluate the role that syntactic structure plays in the memory retrieval operations that support sentence comprehension. Using the multiple-response speed-accuracy tradeoff (MR-SAT) paradigm, we measured the speed with which comprehenders retrieve an a...
Article
We investigated the relationship between linguistic representation and memory access by comparing the processing of two linguistic dependencies that require comprehenders to check that the subject of the current clause has the correct morphological features: subject-verb agreement and reflexive anaphors in English. In two eye-tracking experiments w...
Article
Recent observations of unexpected ERP responses to grammatically well-formed role-reversed sentences (the "Semantic P600" phenomenon) have been taken to bear directly on questions about the architecture of the language processing system. This paper evaluates two central pieces of evidence for accounts that propose a syntax-independent semantic comp...
Article
Full-text available
Most formal syntactic theories propose either that syntactic representations are the product of a derivation that assembles words and phrases in a bottom-to-top and typically right-to-left fashion, or that they are not constructed in an ordered fashion. Both of these views contrast with the (roughly) left-to-right order of structure assembly in lan...
Article
Full-text available
In their response to our article (Sprouse et al. 2012), Hofmeister, Staum Casasanto, and Sag (2012, henceforth HSS) level three primary criticisms at our studies: (i) that working-memory (WM) correlations are not predicted by reductionist theories, (ii) that the WM tasks that we chose are inappropriate for showing the predicted correlation, and (ii...
Article
Full-text available
The source of syntactic island effects has been a topic of considerable debate within linguistics and psycholinguistics. Explanations fall into three basic categories: grammatical theories, which posit specific grammatical constraints that exclude extraction from islands; grounded theories, which posit grammaticized constraints that have arisen to...
Article
This paper brings new evidence to bear on the topic of the Imperfective Paradox – a semantic puzzle involving tense-aspectual categories that lack completion entailments. The lack of completion entailments is usually associated with the so-called progressive and conative readings, illustrated
Article
Recent ERP findings challenge the widespread assumption that syntactic and semantic processes are tightly coupled. Syntactically well-formed sentences that are semantically anomalous due to thematic mismatches elicit a P600, the component standardly associated with syntactic anomaly. This 'thematic P600' effect has been attributed to detection of s...
Article
Full-text available
Although there is broad agreement that error signals generated during an unexpected linguistic event are reflected in event-related potential (ERP) components, there are at least two distinct aspects of the process that the ERP signals may reflect. The first is the content of an error, which is the local discrepancy between an observed form and any...
Article
Many syntactic phenomena have received competing accounts, either in terms of formal grammatical mechanisms, or in terms of independently motivated properties of language processing mechanisms (“reductionist” accounts). A variety of different types of argument have been put forward in efforts to distinguish these competing accounts. This article cr...
Article
Grammatical constraints impose diverse requirements on the relations between words and phrases in a sentence. Research on the online implementation of grammatical constraints reveals a strikingly uneven profile. The parser shows impressive accuracy in the application of some rather complex constraints, but makes many errors in the implementation of...
Chapter
Islands and learning Island effects have long been regarded as strong motivation for domain-specific innate constraints on human language. They are obscure and abstract, and they are a parade case of a linguistic phenomenon that is likely to be difficult to observe in the input that children must learn from. As such, they have been regarded as a go...
Chapter
What is the relationship between grammatical theories and parsing theories? Marr (1982) famously proposed that our theories of information-processing devices can be usefully stated at multiple levels: the computational level, the representational-algorithmic level, and the implementational level. Marr described the computational level as an answer...
Chapter
The challenge of island effects Natural language grammars would probably be simpler if there were no island constraints. They are obscure, often complex, and they present a potentially daunting challenge for language learners, since it is far from clear how children could correctly figure out the details of island constraints based on the limited i...
Article
Full-text available
The 1990s witnessed a major expansion in research on children's morphosyntactic development, due largely to the availability of computer-searchable corpora of spontaneous speech in the CHILDES database. This led to a rapid emergence of parallel findings in different languages, with much attention devoted to the widely attested difficulties in infle...
Article
Full-text available
The P600 is an event-related brain potential (ERP) typically associated with the processing of grammatical anomalies or incongruities. A similar response has also been observed in fully acceptable long-distance wh-dependencies. Such findings raise the question of whether these ERP responses reflect common underlying processes, and what might be the...
Article
Much work has demonstrated so-called attraction errors in the production of subject–verb agreement (e.g., ‘The key to the cabinets are on the table’, [Bock, J. K., & Miller, C. A. (1991). Broken agreement. Cognitive Psychology, 23, 45–93]), in which a verb erroneously agrees with an intervening noun. Six self-paced reading experiments examined the...
Article
Full-text available
Anaphoric relations between pronouns and their antecedents are subject to a number of different linguistic constraints, which exclude the possibility of coreference in specific syntactic or discourse contexts. Constraints on anaphora may, in principle, impact online sentence processing in a couple of different ways. They may act as constraints on t...
Article
Full-text available
Wh-dependencies are known to be formed rapidly in real-time comprehension. The parser posits the location of gap sites in advance of the bottom-up evidence for missing Constituents, and Must therefore have a means of deciding when and where to project dependencies. Previous studies have observed that the parser avoids building ungrammatical wh-depe...
Article
Full-text available
Children have repeatedly been found to exhibit Principle B violations, with some reports that these violations occur only with nonquantified antecedents. This quantificational asymmetry (QA) in the delay of Principle B effect (DPBE) has been taken as support for a theory that restricts the scope of binding theory to bound variable anaphora (Reinhar...
Article
This article presents two on-line self-paced reading studies and three off-line acceptability judgment studies on the processing of backward anaphoric dependencies in Japanese in which a pronoun precedes potential antecedent noun phrases. The studies investigate the real-time formation of coreference relations and operator-variable binding relation...
Article
A number of recent studies have argued that grammatical illusions can arise in the process of completing linguistic dependencies, such that unlicensed material is temporarily treated as licensed due to the presence of a potential licensor that is semantically appropriate but in a syntactically inappropriate position. A frequently studied case invol...
Article
Full-text available
Measuring event-related potentials (ERPs) has been fundamental to our understanding of how language is encoded in the brain. One particular ERP response, the N400 response, has been especially influential as an index of lexical and semantic processing. However, there remains a lack of consensus on the interpretation of this component. Resolving thi...
Article
Full-text available
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Linguistics and Philosophy, 1996. Includes bibliographical references (p. [291]-306). by Colin Phillips. Ph.D.
Article
Imperfective or progressive verb morphology makes it possible to use the name of a whole event to refer to an activity that is clearly not a complete instance of that event, leading to what is known as the Imperfective Paradox. For example, a sentence like 'John was building a house' does not entail that a house ever got built. The Imperfective Par...
Article
Full-text available
This article presents studies of Hindi that investigate whether responses to syntactic agreement violations vary as a function of the type and number of incorrect agreement features, using both electrophysiological (ERP) and behavioral measures. Hindi is well suited to investigation of this issue, since verbs in Hindi mark agreement with the person...
Article
This article presents three studies that investigate when syntactic constraints become available during the processing of long-distance backwards pronominal dependencies (backwards anaphora or cataphora). Earlier work demonstrated that in such structures the parser initiates an active search for an antecedent for a pronoun, leading to gender mismat...
Chapter
Full-text available
The field of psycholinguistics advertises its mentalistic commitments in its name. The field of linguistics does not. Psycholinguistic research frequently involves ingenious experimental designs, fancy lab equipment such as eyetrackers or electroencephalograms, large groups of experimental subjects, and detailed statistical analyses. Linguistic res...
Article
The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.
Article
Full-text available
In parasitic-gap constructions an illicit gap inside a syntactic island becomes acceptable in combination with an additional licit gap, a result that has interesting implications for theories of grammar. Such constructions hold even greater interest for the question of the relation between grammatical knowledge and real-time language processing. Th...