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Cognitive Universals and Linguistic Conventions: The Case of Resumptive Pronouns

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Generativist pragmatists and discourse grammarians both subscribe to a functional view of language, but they do not agree on the nature of pragmatic principles. Prince (1988a,b) has argued that form-function correlations are arbitrary and language specific. Discourse grammarians have argued that pragmatic, and even grammatical rules, emerge out of universal, natural and predictable extralinguistic pressures. I will argue that although the distribution of gaps and resumptive pronouns in relative clauses seems arbitrary and language specific, one cognitively-based form-function principle governs their distribution. Relative clauses where the head is highly accessible when the relativized position is processed take gaps, whereas relative clauses which maintain a relatively low degree of accessibility of the head when the relativized position is processed take resumptive pronouns. The differences between languages are then attributed to language-specific grammaticization processes, rather than to different motivations and/or discoursal patterns.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 1999

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