Dr. Tamarae Hildebrandt defends dissertation

Relationship between Acceptability and Reading Time. Each panel represents one of the four conditions in the experiment: Complementizer (CP), Gender Reflexive (GR), Lexical Semantic Sentences (SS), and Subject-Verb Agreement (SVA). Each panel shows acceptability judgments across the x-axis and the log-adjusted RTs across the y-axis. The blue dots represent the acceptability judgments & RTs for every trial for each participant. The black lines represent the linear trend for each participant. [n=58]. 

Congratulations are in order for newly minted Ph.D. Tamarae Hidlebrandt who successfully defended her dissertation on December 19th! The dissertation describes a host of experiments combining acceptability judgments, self-paced reading experiments, and EEG to probe the nuanced inter-relatedness between grammatical competence and different measures of language performance. The studies address this relationship across a range of linguistic constructions, including some with interesting socio-indexical properties. The figure below gives a glimpse at just some of the many results, but there is no simple way to summarize the many insights from the comparisons studied. You’ll just have to read it yourself (and you’ll be glad you did!)

Title: The Relationship between Online and Offline Measures of Gradient Sentence Acceptability

Committee: Jonathan Brennan (chair), Marlyse Baptiste, Julie Poland, & Acrisio Pires


Experiments using electroencephalography (EEG) and self-paced reading (SPR) usually collect online and offline measures in separate tasks and typically at different points. Current research in psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic has separately shown that gradience exists in both offline acceptability judgments and online measures. These different types of measures are typically analyzed separately. And as such, analyzing these measures separately limits our understanding of the relationship between online and offline measures and how gradience affects the relationship. In this dissertation, I investigate whether gradience in offline acceptability judgments show proportional gradience in online measures.

This dissertation focuses on two target syntactic constructions: 1) a construction argued to exhibit gradient acceptability and 2) a dialectal construction from the US midlands. The first construction was examined in two experiments using two online measures, event-related potentials and reading times (Chapter 2 and Chapter 4). The second construction was examined in one experiment only using reading times (Chapter 5). In all three experiments, participants read sentences using the rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) or the self-paced reading (SPR) protocols and the participants immediately rated the acceptability of the sentence on a 4-point Likert Scale, where 1 is unacceptable and 4 is acceptable.

The results of the experiments suggest that a slight negative correlation between the online and offline measures in SPR studies, but not in EEG. The EEG study only showed a reliable negative correlation for the subject-verb agreement construction and the SPR chapters (Chapter 4 and Chapter 5) showed a reliable negative correlation for all constructions. Additionally, language experience based on geographical location did not modulate this negative correlation between online and offline measures in the dialectal construction using SPR via internet collection. This dissertation contributes to our understanding of how gradience within a syntactic construction, the type of online measure, and language experience impacts the relationship between online and offline measures.