Sensitivity to Syntactic Changes in Garden Path Sentences

Original Article


The results of two text-change experiments are reported. The experiments were designed to investigate the syntactic representation of garden path sentences such as While the man hunted the deer that was brown and graceful ran into the woods, specifically the claim that a significant number of misinterpretations of such sentences are due to incomplete syntactic reanalysis (Christianson et al. Cogn Psychol 42:368–407, 2001). In the experiments reported here, the pronoun it was added (Expt. 1) or deleted (Expt. 2) from short texts containing such sentences. Participants were more or less likely to notice both deletions and additions of it in certain syntactic contexts, as predicted by the incomplete reanalysis account. Correlations with reading times support this interpretation of the results. Overall, the data are consistent with a “good enough” view of language processing (Ferreira et al. J Psycholinguist Res 30:3–20, 2001).


Sentence comprehension Syntactic parsing Good-enough language processing Reading 


  1. Barton S.B., Sanford A.J. (1993) A case study of anomaly detection: Shallow semantic processing and cohesion establishment. Memory and Cognition 21: 477–487Google Scholar
  2. Chomsky N. (1986) Knowledge of language. Foris, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  3. Christianson K., Hollingworth A., Halliwell J.F., Ferreira F. (2001) Thematic-roles assigned along the garden path linger. Cognitive Psychology 42: 368–407. doi: 10.1006/cogp.2001.0752.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Christianson K., Williams C.C., Zacks R.T., Ferreira F. (2006) Misinterpretations of garden-path sentences by older and younger adults. Discourse Processes 42: 205–238. doi: 10.1207/s15326950dp4202_6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Erickson T.D., Mattson M.E. (1981) From words to meaning: A semantic illusion. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 20: 540–551. doi: 10.1016/S0022-5371(81)90165-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ferreira F. (2003) The misinterpretation of noncanonical sentences. Cognitive Psychology 47: 164–20. doi: 10.1016/S0010-0285(03)00005-7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ferreira F., Bailey K.G.D., Ferraro V. (2002) Good-enough representations in language comprehension. Current Directions in Psychological Science 11: 11–15. doi: 10.1111/1467-8721.00158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ferreira F., Christianson K., Hollingworth A. (2001) Misinterpretations of garden-path sentences: Implications for models of sentence processing and reanalysis. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 30: 3–20. doi: 10.1023/A:1005290706460.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ferreira F., Henderson J.M. (1991) Recovery from misanalyses of garden-path sentences. Journal of Memory and Language 30: 725–745. doi: 10.1016/0749-596X(91)90034-H.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fodor J.D., Inoue A. (1998) Attach anyway. In: FodorJ.D. Ferreira F.(eds) Reanalysis in sentence processing.. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 101–141Google Scholar
  11. Frazier L., Clifton C. Jr. (1996) Construal. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  12. MacDonald M.C., Pearlmutter N.J., Seidenberg M.S. (1994) Lexical nature of syntactic ambiguity resolution. Psychological Review 101: 676–703. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.101.4.676.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Petrovitz W. (1996) The effect of discourse factors on backward anaphora. Word 47: 1–12Google Scholar
  14. Pollatsek A., Well A.D. (1995) On the use of counterbalanced designs in cognitive research: A suggestion for a better and more powerful analysis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 21: 785–794. doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.21.3.785.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Sachs J.S. (1967) Recognition memory for syntactic and semantic aspects of connected discourse. Perception and Psychophysics 2: 437–442Google Scholar
  16. Sanford A.J. (2002) Context, attention and depth of processing during interpretation. Mind & Language 17: 188–206. doi: 10.1111/1468-0017.00195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sanford A.J., Sturt P. (2002) Depth of processing in language comprehension: Not noticing the evidence. Trends in Cognitive Science 6: 382–386. doi: 10.1016/S1364-6613(02)01958-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Sanford A.J.S., Sanford A.J., Filik R., Molle J. (2005) Depth of lexical-semantic processing and sentential load. Journal of Memory & Language 53: 378–396. doi: 10.1016/j.jml.2005.05.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Sturt P., Sanford A.J., Stewart A., Dawydiak E. (2004) Linguistic focus and good-enough representations: An application of the change-detection paradigm. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 11: 882–888Google Scholar
  20. Swets B., Desmet T., Clifton C. Jr., Ferreira F. (2008) Underspecification of syntactic ambiguities: Evidence from self-paced reading. Memory & Cognition 36: 201–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Trask R.L. (1993) A dictionary of grammatical terms in linguistics. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  22. Gompel R.P.G., Liversedge S.P. (2003) The influence of morphological information on cataphoric pronoun assignment. Journal of Memory & Language: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 29: 128–139 doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.29.1.128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gompel R.P.G., Pickering M.J., Pearson J., Jacob G. (2006) The activation of inappropriate analyses in garden-path sentences: Evidence from structural priming. Journal of Memory & Language 55: 335–362. doi: 10.1016/j.jml.2006.06.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational Psychology and Beckman InstituteUniversity of Illinois, Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA

Personalised recommendations