Center-Embedded Sentences: An Online Problem or Deeper?
For gathering data on syntax-prosody relations, it has been unclear how to proceed experimentally. This is especially so for complex syntactic structures, such as the doubly center-embedded relative clause construction, which is syntactically well-formed but notoriously difficult to parse. These complex sentences can be especially revealing theoretically but cannot easily be elicited from speakers by presentation of picture choices or written preambles. While acknowledging that it may not be ideal, many studies of these and other complex constructions have resorted to a simple methodology in which written target sentences are read aloud. A basic methodological decision is then whether or not to permit (or encourage) the reader to preview the text before voicing it aloud. The results of reading with preview and of reading ‘cold’ without preview can both be informative, but in different ways. Reading without preview taps on-line performance, which can reveal possible syntactic/semantic expectations, and may shed light on the implicit prosody of silent reading. Reading with preview should provide a better window on prosodic competence: the reader’s inherent knowledge of the prosody/syntax alignment principles of the grammar. However, we maintain that previewing by reading aloud, as in the Double Reading design that we report on here, can be more informative of prosodic competence than the typical silent reading preview.
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