An eye-movement monitoring experiment investigated readers’ response to temporarily ambiguous sentences. The sentences were ambiguous because a relative clause could attach to one of two preceding nouns. Semantic information disambiguated the sentences. Working memory considerations predict an overall preference for the second of the two nouns, as does the late closure principle (Frazier, On comprehending sentences: Syntactic parsing strategies. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Connecticut. West Bend, IN: Indiana University Linguistics Club, 1979). Previous studies assessing preferences for such items have obtained mixed results. On-line assessments show that working memory affects the degree of preference for the first noun, with lower capacity readers having a greater preference for the second noun (Felser et al., Language Acquisition: A Journal of Developmental Linguistics, 11, 127–163, 2003; Traxler, Memory & Cognition, 35, 1107–1121, 2007). Off-line assessments indicate the opposite pattern of preferences when the test sentences are displayed on a single line (Swets et al., Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136, 64–81, 2007). However, when implicit prosody is manipulated by displaying the sentences with a break between the second noun and the relative clause, the off-line assessments indicate that readers prefer to attach the relative clause to the first noun. In this experiment, readers’ undertook a working memory assessment and then read test sentences that were displayed across two lines, with a break appearing after the second noun and before the relative clause. The eye-tracking data indicated an overall preference to attach the relative clause to the first noun, and there was little indication that working memory moderated the degree of preference for this configuration. Hence, it appears that readers’ implicit prosodic contours rapidly affect resolution of adjunct attachment ambiguities.
The author wishes to thank Kristen Tooley for assistance in data collection. This project was supported by awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF#0446618) and the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH#040865). Many thanks to an
anonymous reviewer for raising this issue and offering a number of very fine suggestions.
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.
Blozis S.A., Traxler M.J. (2007) Analyzing individual differences in sentence processing performance using multilevel models. Behavior Research Methods 39: 31–38PubMedGoogle Scholar
Brysbaert M., Mitchell D.C. (1996) Modifier attachment in sentence processing: Evidence from Dutch. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. A, Human Experimental Psychology 49: 664–695. doi:10.1080/027249896392540CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Felser C., Marinis T., Clahsen H. (2003) Children’s processing of ambiguous sentences: A study of relative clause attachment. Language Acquisition: A Journal of Developmental Linguistics 11: 127–163. doi:10.1207/s15327817la1103_1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frazier, L. (1979). On comprehending sentences: Syntactic parsing strategies. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Connecticut. West Bend, IN: Indiana University Linguistics Club.Google Scholar
Frazier L. (1990) Parsing modifiers: Special purpose routines in the human sentence processing mechanism?. In: Balota D, Floresd’ Arcais G.B., Rayner K. (eds) Comprehension processes in reading. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, pp 303–330Google Scholar
Frazier L., Clifton C. Jr. (1996) Construal. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
Gibson E. (2000) The dependency locality theory: A distance-based theory of linguistic complexity. In: Marantz A., Miyashita Y., O’Neil W. (eds) Image, language, brain: Papers from the first mind articulation project symposium. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 94–126Google Scholar
Kjelgaard M.M., Speer S.R. (1999) Prosodic facilitation and interference in the resolution of temporary syntactic closure ambiguity. Journal of Memory and Language 40: 153–194. doi:10.1006/jmla.1998.2620CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pearlmutter N.J., MacDonald M.E. (1995) Individual differences and probabilistic constraints in syntactic ambiguity resolution. Journal of Memory and Language 34: 521–542. doi:10.1006/jmla.1995.1024CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Raudenbush S.W., Bryk A.S. (2002) Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods (2nd ed.). Sage, Newbury Park, CAGoogle Scholar
Snijders T., Bosker R. (1999) Multilevel analysis. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
Speer S.R., Kjelgaard M.M., Dobroth K.M. (1996) The influence of prosodic structure on the resolution of temporary syntactic closure ambiguities. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 25: 249–271. doi:10.1007/BF01708573PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Swets B., Desmet T., Hambrick D.Z., Ferreira F. (2007) The role of working memory in syntactic ambiguity resolution: A psychometric approach. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 136: 64–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Traxler M.J. (2007) Working memory contributions to relative clause attachment processing: A hierarchical linear modeling analysis. Memory & Cognition 35: 1107–1121Google Scholar
Traxler M.J., Williams R.S., Blozis S.A., Morris R.K. (2005) Working memory, animacy, and verb class in the processing of relative clauses. Journal of Memory and Language 53: 204–224. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2005.02.010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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. A, Human Experimental Psychology 50: 421–438. doi:10.1080/027249897392161CrossRefGoogle Scholar