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Language diversity in the psycholinguistic study of sentence form variation

On the 12th of December, Eleanor Dutton successfully defended her doctoral thesis and graduated. The Leiden University Centre for Linguistics congratulates Eleanor on this achievement.

Eleanor Dutton
12 December 2019
Leiden University Repository


This thesis is concerned with the processes by which speakers produce felicitous, well-formed sentences, and the processes by which hearers comprehend these sentences. In particular, the focus is on how we can properly account for these grammatical encoding processes given that languages vary in myriad ways. This core aim, however, is hampered by the fact that only a fraction of the world's linguistic diversity has hitherto been included in psycholinguistic research. Therefore, the questions at the core of this research are those that are raised as we aim to conduct more cross-linguistic work on sentence formulation in typologically distinct languages. These questions are necessarily both theoretical and methodological in nature, involving an exploration of the challenges faced when trying to apply existing approaches to underrepresented, typologically divergent languages. In terms of theory, this work draws attention to specific ways in which standard theories of grammatical encoding fail to account for languages that differ from well-researched Western European languages. In terms of methodology, this work considers how a restricted view of linguistic variation may be reflected in the choices we make during the design, data processing and analysis of sentence production studies, as well as suggestions for addressing this issue.

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