6. The effect of case marking on subject-verb agreement errors in English

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It is commonly assumed that the occurrence and distribution of processing errors offer a “window” into the architecture of cognitive processors. In recent years, psycholinguists have drawn inferences about syntactic encoding processes in language production by examining the distribution and rate of subject–verb agreement (SVA) errors in different contexts. To date, dozens of studies have used a sentence repetition-completion paradigm to elicit SVA errors. In this task, participants hear a sentence fragment (or “preamble”), repeat it, and provide a well-formed completion. These experiments have shown that when a singular head is modified by a phrase containing a plural NP (e.g. <i>The bill for the accountants...</i>), a significant number of SVA errors may occur. Several experiments have shown that, in English, the phonological form of words within a subject NP plays virtually no role in the rate of error occurrence. Yet recent data from our lab suggests that overt morphophonological case information does matter: speakers are more likely to produce the error<i>The bill for the accountants were outrageous </i>than <i>The bill for them were outrageous</i>. In this paper, we will present the results of this case-marking study and discuss the implications for models of language production.


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