Number Agreement in British and American English : Disagreeing to Agree Collectively
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SourceLanguage, 82, 1, (2006), pp. 64-113
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ DCC CO
SW OZ NICI CO
British and American speakers exhibit different verb number agreement patterns when sentence subjects have collective head nouns. From linguistic and psycholinguistic accounts of how agreement is implemented, three alternative hypotheses can be derived to explain these differences. The hypotheses involve variations in the representation of notional number, disparities in how notional and grammatical number are used, and inequalities in the grammatical number specifications of collective nouns. We carried out a series of corpus analyses, production experiments, and norming studies to test these hypotheses. The results converge to suggest that British and American speakers are equally sensitive to variations in notional number and implement subject-verb agreement in much the same way, but are likely to differ in the lexical specifications of number for collectives. The findings support a psycholinguistic theory that explains verb and pronoun agreement within a parallel architecture of lexical and syntactic formulation.
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