Prosodic Influences on Reading Syntactically Ambiguous Sentences

  • Markus Bader
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 21)


In this chapter, I will propose a new account for the question of why only some local syntactic ambiguities lead to strong garden-path effects whereas others do not. This account is based on the observation that readers do not only compute syntactic structures during reading but also prosodic structures. These prosodic structures are a product of the process of phonological coding which normally accompanies silent reading. Due to the lack of a one-to-one mapping between syntactic and prosodic structures, recovery from a syntactic misanalysis may be accompanied by the need to replace the original prosodic structure or not. According to the prosodic constraint on reanalysis, the need to revise the original prosodic structure makes recovery from a syntactic misanalysis difficult. Empirical evidence for this claim comes from a series of three self-paced reading experiments which investigated the German variant of the English her-ambiguity. These experiments manipulated the prosodic structure of sentences by inserting focus operators (focus particles, sentence adverbials) into locally ambiguous sentences. Thereby it became possible to independently determine the contributions of syntactic and prosodic factors to reanalysis. The results show that for the ambiguitiy examined, garden-path effects can be predicted on prosodic grounds but not on syntactic grounds. This finding supports the claim that for certain kinds of syntactic ambiguities reanalysis is prosodically constrained.


Reading Time Phonological Code Embed Clause Main Clause Ambiguous Sentence 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Markus Bader
    • 1
  1. 1.Friedrich-Schiller-Universität JenaGermany

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