Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 245–265 | Cite as

Phrasing Effects in Comprehending PP Constructions

  • Joel Pynte
Original Article


The role of prosodic phrasing in sentence comprehension was investigated by means of three different tasks, namely auditory word monitoring (Experiment 1), self-paced reading (Experiment 2) and cross-modal comparison (Experiment 3). In all three experiments a critical prosodic unit or frame comprising a determiner, a noun and a Prepositional Phrase (PP) was preceded or surrounded by two context prosodic units (frames) whose length was varied. The participants’ tendency to interpret the critical sequence as forming a single syntactic constituent (noun–complement interpretation of the PP) as opposed to two distinct syntactic constituents (verb–complement interpretation of the PP) was found to depend on the relative length of the critical and context prosodic units (frames). As a whole these results are consistent with the notion that phrasing effects occur in a retroactive way, after part of the utterance has been processed.


Phrasing Prosody PP attachment Syntactic parsing 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abeillé, A., Clément, L., & Kinyon, A. (2001). Building a treebank for French. In Building and using syntactically annotated corpora. Kluwer Academic Publisher.Google Scholar
  2. Abeillé, A., Pynte, J., & Toussenel, F. (2001). Constituent length and attachment preferences in French. Poster presented at AMLaP, September, Sarrbrucken, Germany.Google Scholar
  3. Beauvillain C., Beauvillain P. (1995). Calibration of an eye movement system for use in reading. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers 55, 1–17Google Scholar
  4. Beckman M., Pierrehumbert J. (1986). Intonational structure in Japanese and English. Phonological Yearbook 3, 255–309Google Scholar
  5. Boula de Mareüil P., Célérier P., Cesses T., Fabre S., Jobin C., Le Meur P.-Y., Obadia D., Soulage B., Toen J. (2001). Elan text-to-speech: un système multilingue de synthèse de la parole à partir de texte. Traitement Automatique des Langues 42, 1–30Google Scholar
  6. Briscoe E.J. (1984) The interactive determinism hypothesis: A model of Human Spoken Processing. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Cambridge, EnglandGoogle Scholar
  7. Briscoe E.J. (1987). Modeling Human Speech Comprehension: A computational Approach. Wiley, Chichester: Ellis Horwood/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Colonna, S.& Pynte, J. (2001a). Relative clause attachment in French: The role of Fodor’s “same-size-sister” constraint, Poster presented at Workshop on Prosody Processing, 5–6 July, Utrecht, Pays-bas.Google Scholar
  9. Colonna, S., & Pynte, J. (2001b). The role of Fodor’s “same-size-sister” constraint in relative clause attachment in French, Poster presented at ESCOP 12, 5–8 September, Edinburgh, Scotland.Google Scholar
  10. Cutler A., Dahan D., van Donselaar W. (1997). Prosody in the comprehension of spoken language: A literature review. Language and Speech 40, 141–201PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. De Cornuiler B. (1979). Problèmes de métrique française. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Provence, Aix-en-Provence, FranceGoogle Scholar
  12. De Vincenzi M., Job R. (1993). Some observations on the universality of the late-closure Strategy. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 22, 189–206Google Scholar
  13. De Vincenzi M., Job R. (1995). An investigation of late closure. Journal of Experimental. Psychology. L., M. & C., 21, 1303–1321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fernandez, E., Fodor, J. D., Almeida, R. G., Bradley, D., & Quinn, D. (2003). Relative clause attachment in Canadian French: prosodic boundary or F0-Matching? Paper presented at CUNY 2003, Boston: March.Google Scholar
  15. Fernandez E.M. (2003). Bilingual Sentence Processing: Relative Clause Attachment in English and Spanish. John Benjamins, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  16. Fernandez, E. M. & Bradley, D. (1999). Length effects in the attachment of relative clauses in English. Poster presented at the 12th annual CUNY conference on Human Sentence Processing, New York.Google Scholar
  17. Fodor, J. D. (2002). Psycholinguistics cannot escape prosody. Proceeding of the first conference on Speech Prosody, Aix-en-Provence, France, 11–13 April.Google Scholar
  18. Fodor J.D. (1998). Learning to parse. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 27, 285–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Frenck-Mestre C., Pynte J. (1997). Syntactic ambiguity resolution while reading in second and native language. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 50A, 119–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Frenck-Mestre C., Pynte J. (2000a). Romancing syntactic ambiguity: Why the French and the Italian don’t see eye to eye. In Kennedy A., Radach R., Heller D., Pynte J. (eds). Reading as a perceptual process. Elsevier, Oxford, pp. 549–564CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Frenck-Mestre, C., & Pynte, J. (2000b). Resolving syntactic ambiguities: cross-linguistic differences? In De Vincenzi, M., & Lombardo, V. (Eds.) Cross-linguistic perspectives on language processing (pp. 119–148). Kluwer Academic.Google Scholar
  22. Gee J.P., Grosjean F. (1983). Performance structures: a psycholinguistic and linguistic appraisal. Cognitive Psychology 15, 411–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gibson E. (1998). Syntactic complexity: locality of syntactic dependencies. Cognition 68, 1–76PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gilboy E., Sopena M. (1996). Segmentation effects in the processing of complex NPs with relative clauses. In: Carreiras M., Garcia-Albea J.E., Sebastian-Galles N. (eds). Language processing in Spanish. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, N.J.Google Scholar
  25. Haussmann R.E. (1992). Tachistoscopic presentation and millisecond timing on the IBM/XT/AT and PS/2: A turbo Pascal unit to provide general-purpose routines for CGA, Hercules, EGA, and VGA monitors. Behavior Research Methods Instruments & Computers 24, 303–310Google Scholar
  26. Hemforth, B., Fernandez, S., Clifton, C., Frazier, L., Konieczny, L., & Walter, M. (submitted). Relative clause attachment in German, English, Spanish, and French: Effects of position and length.Google Scholar
  27. Hirose, Y. (1999). Resolving reanalysis ambiguity in Japanese relative clauses. Doctoral dissertation. City University of New York.Google Scholar
  28. Hirose, Y. (2000). The role of constituent length in resolving reanalysis ambiguity. In proceedings of the first Tokyon conference on Pycholinguistics (pp. 55–74). Tokyo: Hitsuji Syobo Publishing Ldt.Google Scholar
  29. Hirst D. (1993). Detaching intonational phrases from syntactic structure. Linguistic Inquiry 24, 782–788Google Scholar
  30. Lovric, N., Bradley, D., & Fodor, J. (2000). RC attachment in Croatian with and without prepositions. Poster presented at the AMLaP Conference, Leiden.Google Scholar
  31. Lovric, N., Bradley, D., & Fodor, J. (2001). Silent prosody resolves syntactic ambiguities: Evidence from Croatioan. Paper presented at the SUNY/CUNY/NYU Conference, Stonybrook, NY.Google Scholar
  32. Marcus M., Hindle D. (1990). Description theory and intonational boundaries. In: Altman G.T.M. (eds). Cognitive models of speech processing: Psycholinguistic and computational perspectives. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  33. Mitchell D.C. (1987). Lexical guidance in human parsing: Locus and processing characteristics. In Coltheart M. (eds). Attention and Performance XII, The Psychology of reading. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, pp. 601–618Google Scholar
  34. Monnin P., Grosjean F. (1993). Les structure de performance du français: caractérisation et prédiction. L’Année Psychologique 93, 9–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nespor M., Vogel I. (1986). Prosodic phonology. Foris, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  36. Pickering M., Traxler M., Crocker M. (2000). Ambiguity resolution in sentence processing: Evidence against frequency-based accounts. Journal of Memory & Language 43, 447–475CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pierrehumbert J., Beckman M. (′1988). Japanese Tone structure. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  38. Pynte J. (1998a). The time-course of attachment decisions: Evidence from French. In Hillert D. (eds). Syntax and semantics: A crosslinguistic perspective. Vol 31, Academic Press, San Diego, CA, pp. 227–245Google Scholar
  39. Pynte J. (1998b). The role of Prosody in Semantic Interpretation. Music Perception 16, 79–97Google Scholar
  40. Pynte, J., & Colonna, S. (1998). French readers sometimes prefer to attach low. Paper presented at the annual conference on Architecture and Mechanisms for Language Processing (AMLaP), Freiburg, September, 24–26.Google Scholar
  41. Pynte J., Colonna S. (2000). Decoupling syntactic parsing from visual inspection: The case of relative clause attachment in French. In Kennedy A., Radach R., Heller D., Pynte J. (eds). Reading as a perceptual process. Elsevier, Oxford, pp. 529–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pynte J., Prieur B. (1996). Prosodic breaks and attachment decisions in sentence parsing. Language and Cognitive Processes 11, 165–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Quinn, D., Abdelghany, H., & Fodor, J. D. (2000). More evidence of implicit prosody in silent reading: French, English, and Arabic relative clauses. Poster presented at the 13th annual CUNY conference on human sentence processing, La Jolla, March 30–April 1.Google Scholar
  44. Selkirk E. (2000). The interactions of constraints on prosodic phrasing. In: Horne M. (eds). Prosody: Theory and experiment. Kluwer Academic, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  45. Selkirk E.O. (1984). Phonology and Syntax: The relation between sound and structure. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  46. Selkirk E.O. (1986). On derived domains in sentence phonology. Phonology Yearbook 3, 371–405Google Scholar
  47. Spivey-Knowlton M.J., Sedivy J.C. (1995). Resolving attachment ambiguities with multiple constraints. Cognition 55, 227–267PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Thornton R., MacDonald M.C., Gil M. (1999). Pragmatic constraint on the interpretation of complex noun phrases in Spanish and English. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition 25, 1347–1365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Thornton R., MacDonald M., Arnold J.E. (2000). The concomitant effects of phrase length and informational content in sentence comprehension. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 29, 195–203PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Truckenbrodt H. (1999). On the relation between syntactic phrases and phonological phrases. Linguistic Inquiry 30, 219–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Watson D., Gibson E. (2004). Making sense of the sense unit condition. Linguistic Inquiry 35, 508–517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Watson D., Gibson E. (2005). Intonational phrasing and constituency in language production and comprehension. Studia Linguistica 59, 279–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Zagar D., Pynte J., Rativeau S. (1997). Evidence for early closure attachment on first pass reading times in French. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 50A, 421–438Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CNRS and Université de ProvenceAix-en-ProvenceFrance

Personalised recommendations