Licensing of Negative Polarity Items: An Eye Tracking Study
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Negative polarity items (NPIs) are expressions that seem to require negative environments to be grammatical, e.g. English 'any' (compare 'I haven't got any money' vs. '*I have got any money'). In other words, NPIs need to be licensed by other elements in a sentence. In this thesis I present the results of two psycholinguistic experiments looking into the processing of NPIs, more specifically, the Dutch verb 'hoeven'. In the first experiment readers were asked to judge the felicity of a set of sentences with varying NPI/licenser combinations in a web-based questionnaire. This experiment served as a validation of concepts put forward in the theoretical literature and as preparation for the eye tracking experiment that followed it. We could not distinguish between the weak licenser 'zelden' and the strong licenser 'niet'. Although this is an important distinction in the theoretical literature, it did not show up in the judgements of our participants. As long as a licenser is present to make the sentence grammatical it is judged acceptable, regardless of the type of licenser. The second experiment, an eye tracking experiment, looked primarily at a possible word order effect in the processing of NPIs. Although the experiment did not yield a word order effect, our study confirms the licensing requirement for NPIs in that unlicensed NPIs incur a reading penalty. Further research is needed to elucidate the exact nature of the licensing process.