Yourdanis' defense Zoom meeting, with some of the people who attended it

Congratulations to Dr. Yourdanis Sedarous, who successfully defended her dissertation and was awarded her PhD this Fall!

Dissertation title: An Experimental Study on the Syntax of English and Egyptian Arabic: A Unified Account of Bilingual Grammatical Knowledge

Committee Co-Chairs: Marlyse Baptista and Acrisio Pires; Committee members Julie Boland and Savithry Namboodiripad

ABSTRACT: This dissertation investigates the extent to which bilingual speakers’ cognitive representations of the syntactic structures of their two languages are interconnected. This is a substantially understudied domain despite the widespread existence of bilingual/multilingual communities in the world, including the US.

To draw solid conclusions about bilingual individuals’ linguistic representations of syntactic structures, in this dissertation we test bilingual individuals’ sensitivity to island and non-island wh-questions in both unilingual and code-switched contexts. Code-switching is a particularly relevant domain of investigation for determining how structures with similar surface word orders, but either similar or different derivations across the two languages, are processed  by bilingual individuals. The logic here is: if two structures share a syntactic derivation, which we classify as a shared structure, then these structures will be sensitive to the same well-formedness conditions in both unilingual and code-switched contexts. If the two structures have different syntactic derivations, which we classify as separate structures, then we will see divergent sensitivities to well-formedness conditions across the two unilingual contexts, as well as the code-switched contexts.

We focused our attention on wh-in situ and wh-resumptive structures in Egyptian Arabic and English. The wh-in situ structure was chosen because, in the right pragmatic context, it has been argued to have a similar syntactic derivation across the two languages, while the wh-resumptive structure was chosen because it has been argued to have a different syntactic derivation across the two languages. We conducted a four-block experiment administered within one experimental session, testing wh-in-situ, wh-resumptive and wh-gap structures in each block. The first block tested the wh-structures in unilingual Egyptian Arabic sentences. The second block tested them in unilingual English sentences. The third and fourth blocks tested the acceptability of the wh-structures in code-switched Egyptian Arabic/English sentences. To test both island and non-island wh-in situ and wh-resumptive structures, we used a factorial design to isolate island effects from extra grammatical processing effects. Based on the results of the experiment we concluded the following: First, in line with the predictions of previous literature, we argue that the wh-in situ structure is not only similar in the surface order across both languages, but the wh-in situ structure in Egyptian Arabic and English share the same derivational properties. Second, based on the reported island sensitivity in the code-switched conditions, we argue that the wh-resumptive structure of Egyptian Arabic is formed via movement in a manner like how clause-initial wh-constituents are formed in English, but that the island sensitivities are masked in the unilingual Egyptian Arabic contexts as the distribution of resumptive pronouns is subject to both phonological and syntactic well-formedness conditions. Based on this discussion, we conclude that the wh-resumptive structure across Egyptian Arabic and English is a partially overlapping  structure for the population of speakers recruited in this study, since the clause initial wh-element is formed via movement in both languages, but the insertion of resumptive pronouns is generated as part of the derivation in Egyptian Arabic, but as the result of a production effect in English.