Seminaire: Conference Thomas Wasow, LPL, Universite de Provence, Aix

Thierry Hamon thierry.hamon at LIPN.UNIV-PARIS13.FR
Fri May 5 11:37:27 UTC 2006

Date: Wed, 3 May 2006 13:12:02 +0200
From: "Philippe Blache" <pb at>
Message-ID: <00db01c66ea2$6799d550$a8d75e93 at gondar>

Conférence exceptionnelle du LPL

               "Choosing Among Syntactic Alternatives"

                             Thomas Wasow
                         Stanford University

           Université de Provence, Faculté de Lettres (Aix)
                        Salle des professeurs

                          Mardi 16 Mai à 14h

What leads speakers to select one way of saying something over another
way of expressing the same thought?  This lecture proposes four
general strategies of utterance production that influence the choice
among alternative formulations:

- Contiguity - Minimize interruptions internal to syntactic and
  semantic units;

- Procrastination - Postpone producing complex units;

- Brevity - Keep what is predictable short; and

- Audience Design - Let your audience know when you are having
  difficulty. It also argues against the widely held assumption that
  ambiguity avoidance is a major factor in the choice among syntactic

Evidence for these strategies will be drawn from corpus studies and
psycholinguistic experiments, with special attention to the following
five alternations in English:

- Heavy NP Shift: "They take too many dubious assumptions for granted"
  vs. "They take for granted too many dubious assumptions"

- Dative Alternation: "We gave a bone to a dog" vs. "We gave a dog a

- Verb Particle Placement: "You figured out the problem" vs. "You
  figured the problem out"

- Relativizer Optionality: "This is the book that I was reading" vs.
  "This is the book I was reading"

- Complementizer Optionality: "I think that it is raining" vs. "I
  think it is raining"

While each strategy is quite simple and intuitive in itself, the
interactions among them lead to some subtle and surprising results.

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