Completability vs (in)completeness

In natural conversation, no notion of "complete sentence" is required for syntactic licensing. From the perspective of standard formalisms, fragmentary, incomplete, and abandoned utterances constitute the main problematic data of dialogue. We present data that shows: (a) non-sentential utterances are adequate to underpin people's coordination, while (b) all linguistic dependencies are systematically licensed as being resolvable across more than one turn. Moreover, we argue that no notion of "full proposition" or encoded speech act is necessary for successful interaction. Strings, contents, and speech acts emerge incrementally in conversation without any participant having envisaged in advance the outcome of their own or their interlocutors' actions. This shows that grammatical licensing and semantic processing are performed incrementally subsententially online, at each step affording and constraining possibilities for further extension. We argue that a representational level of abstract syntax, divorced from conceptual structure and physical action, impedes a natural account of such phenomena. Instead, we argue that we need a view of natural language as a "skill" employing domain-general mechanisms rather than fixed formmeaning mappings. We provide a sketch of a predictive and incremental architecture (Dynamic Syntax) within which underspecification and time-relative update of meanings and utterances constitute the sole concept of "syntax".
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Acta Linguistica Hafniensia
Under review
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