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Zoe on number retrieval cues in the Journal of Memory and Language

Now out from Zoe Schlueter, with Alexander Williams and Ellen Lau, "Exploring the abstractness of number retrieval cues in the computation of subject-verb agreement in comprehension," in the Journal of Memory and Language. The article investigates 'agreement attraction' errors in number agreement between verbs and subjects, with the aim of asking: How faithful is retrieval of number information in relation to the grammar? Do retrieval models necessitate the inclusion of cues as abstract as the terms in which the grammatical dependencies are stated, such as the feature "PLURAL"? Or is it sufficient for cues to target only certain instantiations of an abstract category, perhaps the most frequent ones, like the plural "-s"? Through a series of experiments, Zoe examines the impact of conjoined singular attractors ("The advice from the doctor and the nurse…"), which are syntactically plural but whose plurality is introduced by a vehicle, the conjunction ‘and’, that is not an unequivocal correlate of syntactic plurality. The results find strong agreement attraction for both conjoined plurals and for plurals in "-s", which suggests that retrieval processes do not only target unequivocal morphological correlates of syntactic plurality. But it also find some attraction with conjoined adjective attractors ("The advice from the diligent and compassionate doctor…"), which is compatible with a system in which an imperfect correlate of syntactic plurality, like the word ‘and’, can become associated with the plural retrieval cue due to frequent co-occurrence with the actual target feature.