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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton March 19, 2010

Processing auxiliary selection with Italian intransitive verbs

Ellen Gurman Bard , Cheryl Frenck-Mestre and Antonella Sorace
From the journal


For intransitive verbs in languages with a choice of perfective auxiliaries, off-line acceptability judgments conform to a semantically based Auxiliary Selection Hierarchy (ASH) (Sorace, Language 76: 859–890, 2000, Gradience at the lexicon-syntax interface: Evidence from auxiliary selection, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). According to the ASH, inherently telic verbs regularly selecting auxiliary be appear to be core exemplars of unaccusative syntax, while atelic verbs of agentive activity regularly selecting have are core exemplars of unergative syntax. Non-core verbs that are inherently neither telic nor agentive allow either auxiliary to degrees depending on context and on distance from telic and agentive poles. ASH effects have not yet been investigated in real-time language processing. This paper demonstrates ASH effects on processing of Italian auxiliaries essere ‘be’ and avere ‘have’ in on-line comprehension and production. For native speakers reading Italian sentences, total reading times display the ASH effect: a stronger advantage for correct over incorrect auxiliaries with aspectually prototypical core verbs than with peripheral exemplars. In word production, the ASH effect appears when visually presented auxiliaries prime production of participles corresponding to infinitive stimuli. The pattern of results conforms to linguistic markedness and suggests how the ASH may be reflected in the real-time processing of auxiliaries.

Linguistics and English Language, School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, U.K. E-mail:

Received: 2007-02-16
Revised: 2008-04-14
Published Online: 2010-03-19
Published in Print: 2010-March

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