A Self‐Organizing Approach to Subject–Verb Number Agreement

Cognitive Science 42 (S4):1043-1074 (2018)
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We present a self-organizing approach to sentence processing that sheds new light on notional plurality effects in agreement attraction, using pseudopartitive subject noun phrases. We first show that notional plurality ratings predict verb agreement choices in pseudopartitives, in line with the “Marking” component of the Marking and Morphing theory of agreement processing. However, no account to date has derived notional plurality values from independently needed principles of language processing. We argue on the basis of new experimental evidence and a dynamical systems model that the theoretical black box of notional plurality can be unpacked into objectively measurable semantic features. With these semantic features driving structure formation, our model reproduces the human verb production patterns as a byproduct of normal processing. Finally, we discuss how the self-organizing approach might be extended to other agreement attraction phenomena.



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Garrett Smith
University of Notre Dame