The real-time comprehension of WH-dependencies in a WH-agreement language


In the verb-initial language Chamorro, an Austronesian language of the Mariana Islands, wh -dependencies exhibit a special verbal inflection known as wh-agreement : verbs along the path of the wh -dependency are inflected for the grammatical relation of the gap and the intermediate landing sites of the filler. Two on-line comprehension experiments conducted in the Northern Mariana Islands reveal that the morphological paradigm of wh -agreement affects the timing of dependency formation and interpretation in this language. Overt wh -agreement facilitates the formation of a wh -dependency. When overt wh -agreement could occur but does not, however, its absence delays and attenuates wh -dependency formation. In short, morphological information exerts a powerful influence on the unfolding parse, one that has temporal priority over syntactic information, such as word order, and semantic information, such as argument structure.