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Communication Accommodation Theory

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Academic Paper


Title: Branching Direction in Recursive Structures
Linguistic Field: Syntax
Subject Language: English
Abstract: English makes regular use of a number of recursive structures spanning the syntax–lexicon continuum. While NPs with recursive relative clauses occupy the syntactic end, nominal compounds are located at the lexical end. In between these extremes we find NPs with recursive periphrastic genitives (towards the syntactic end) and NPs with recursive Saxon genitives (towards the lexical end). This study presents a comparative analysis of the branching direction preferences in these recursive structures. The empirical focus is on double of-genitives, which exhibit an overwhelming predilection for right-branching. This contrasts sharply with the double Saxon genitives, which gravitate towards left-branching. The branching direction decision is argued to be under the sway of several distinct factors: a syntactic factor controlling the alternative between leftward and rightward expansion; a lexical factor regulating the idiomatization of a given pair of elements; and a processing factor geared towards preventing garden path effects. Furthermore, branching direction is determined by listeners’ desire to minimize constituent recognition domains. Taken together, these factors are held accountable for the varying branching direction biases found in the different types of NP.

CUP AT LINGUIST

This article appears IN English Language and Linguistics Vol. 16, Issue 3.

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