On the origin of islands

Masaya Yoshida*, Nina Kazanina, Leticia Pablos, Patrick Sturt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


There is considerable controversy on island constraints on wh-dependencies in the psycholinguistic literature. One major point of contention is whether islands result from processing limitations such as working memory capacity or from domain-specific linguistic knowledge. The current study investigates whether islands can be reduced to processing considerations, by examining processing of another long-distance dependency, cataphora. If whdependencies with the licensing element (the verb or preposition) falling inside an island entail an unbearable memory load on the parser, then other dependencies, including cataphora, with a licensing element (the antecedent), falling inside an island, should yield a similar processing difficulty. The results from a self-paced reading experiment demonstrate that online formation of a cataphoric dependency is not affected by island constraints.We conclude that islands are not fully reducible to processing considerations and therefore must - at least in part - be of grammatical origin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-770
Number of pages10
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Structured keywords

  • Language


  • Cataphora
  • Islands
  • Parsing
  • Processing-based accounts of islands
  • Sentence processing


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