Michael Clauss
Current research - Current teaching

No Question About Free Relatives
Click here to read the paper!
In my first Generals Paper, I investigate predictions for children's interpretations of various question forms made by syntactic models which differentiate the syntax and semantics of Free Relative Clauses (FRCs), as in 'What Ben ate was tasty', from that of embedded question clauses, as in 'Molly asked what Ben ate'. Data from two experiments show that children have knowledge of the semantic difference between the two clause types. I argue that the differences shown in these experiments favors theories of Wh movement which distinguish Wh and Question features in the syntax. I discuss implications these findings have both on theoretical syntax and semantcs, and on interpreting previous experimental results concerning children's interpretations of embedded Wh clauses. Lastly, I discuss implications of the differences seen between the two experiments for children's use of discursive information in interpreting questions.

Having developed this syntactic and semantic description of Free Relative Clauses and done this exploratory work on children's knowledge of the difference between question and non-question Wh constructions, I am currently developing two related lines of research on the development of these subtle patterns, in hopes to advance the question of what syntactic cues are and aren't useful to children's linguistic development, and what parts of children's knowledge need to be innate to account for these developmental paths.

  1. Internal syntax of embedded clauses and its effect on interpretation. This line looks at the difference between expressions like 'what Ben ate' and 'what food Ben ate', differences which seem to be idiosyncracies of the syntax-semantics interface (possibly, but not certainly, peculiar to particular languages). How and when do children learn the difference between head movement and phrasal movement?
    Presented as a poster at BUCLD 39: Download it here.
  2. Types of embedding predicates and their effect on the interpretation of Wh expressions. This line looks at the difference between expressions like 'wonder what Ben ate' and 'make what Ben ate', which seem to be inherent to the interpretation of the predicates themselves (though they have some effects on syntactic representation). How do children learn the connection between the lexical semantics and selectional properties of different predicates? What is the role of categorial labels on doing so?

Email me: mclauss+AT+linguist.umass.edu
Step back