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Effects of predicate type and givenness on the acceptability of relative clause extraposition in English
Abstract: In English, subject-modifying restrictive relative clauses (RCs) are typically adjacent to their antecedents (e.g. some swimmers who had no adult supervision appeared), but can also be extraposed, appearing after the verb phrase (e.g. some swimmers appeared who had no adult supervision). Using informal judgments, Guéron (1980) and Rochemont and Culicover (1990) argue that relative clause extraposition (RCE) sentences are most acceptable when serving a presentational function, i.e. when describing the appearance of some entity into the discourse. They observe that intransitive verbs of appearance (arrive) are generally more acceptable with RCE than other intransitive verbs (smile). Transitive verbs (break something) are claimed to be even less acceptable due to their typical assertive function (Kuno & Takami, 1997). Rochemont and Culicover (1990) further propose that non-appearance verbs in RCE sentences are rendered more acceptable when the predicate is discourse given. Using a judgement task, Walker (2013) showed that RCE sentences in isolation were more acceptable with appearance verbs compared to other intransitive verbs; however, acceptability of RCE with transitive verbs, and the interaction between givenness and predicate type, has not been formally tested. The current study examines the effects of predicate type and discourse status on RCE using an acceptability judgment task. Hypotheses: (H1) Canonical sentences > RCE sentences in all conditions (Francis, 2010). (H2) In the RCE order, appearance verbs will receive higher ratings than intransitive non-appearance verbs, which will receive higher ratings than transitive-reflexive verbs (hurt themselves) (Walker, 2013). (H3) In the RCE order, acceptability for intransitive non-appearance and transitive-reflexive verbs will improve in the given condition (Rochemont & Culicover, 1990). Forty-eight participants rated sentences containing a subject-modifying RC presented with a preceding context. Three factors were manipulated resulting in 12 conditions: word order (RCE, canonical), verb type (appearance, intransitive non-appearance, transitive-reflexive) and discourse status of the predicate (new, given). Each participant rated one sentence from each condition, five practice items, and 24 filler sentences. Order of presentation was pseudorandom. Data were analyzed using a linear mixed model. H1 was supported: canonical sentences were rated higher than RCE sentences (F = 86.32 (1, 506), p < .0001). H2 was partially supported: RCE sentences containing appearance verbs were rated higher than those containing other verb types (F = 7.83 (2, 506), p = .0004); However, transitive-reflexive verbs were no less acceptable with RCE than intransitive non-appearance verbs. The latter finding is unexpected given the assertive function typically associated with transitivity (Guéron, 1980). Following Kuno and Takami (1997), we argue that this finding can be best explained by the reflexive object’s discourse givenness and its reduced semantic content compared to a typical non-reflexive object. H3 was not supported: RCE acceptability did not improve in the given context. Our findings fail to support the proposal that non-appearance verbs become more acceptable in RCE when previously mentioned but extend previous findings on predicate type by showing that transitive-reflexive verbs are moderately acceptable with RCE. Furthermore, effects of predicate type similar to those found by Walker (2013) are also found for contextualized sentences.