Some attractions of verb agreement
SourceCognitive Psychology, 43, 2, (2001), pp. 83-128
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ DCC CO
In English, words like scissors are grammatically plural but conceptually singular, while words like suds are both grammatically and conceptually plural. Words like army can be construed plurally, despite being grammatically singular. To explore whether and how congruence between grammatical and conceptual number affected the production of subject-verb number agreement in English, we elicited sentence completions for complex subject noun phrases like The advertisement for the scissors. In these phrases, singular subject nouns were followed by distractor words whose grammatical and conceptual numbers varied. The incidence of plural attraction (the use of plural verbs after plural distractors) increased only when distractors were grammatically plural, and revealed no influence from the distractors' number meanings. Companion experiments in Dutch offered converging support for this account and suggested that similar agreement processes operate in that language. The findings argue for a component of agreement that is sensitive primarily to the grammatical reflections of number. Together with other results, the evidence indicates that the implementation of agreement in languages like English and Dutch involves separable processes of number marking and number morphing, in which number meaning plays different parts.
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