Syntactic Reanalysis, Thematic Processing, and Sentence Comprehension

  • Fernanda Ferreira
  • John M. Henderson
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 21)


This paper describes the current version of our model of reanalysis, which updates our earlier work to incorporate the critical notion of a thematic processing domain (TPD). This new model is motivated by the following experimental results: First, reanalysis processes are not tricked by the presence of a local NP that could potentially serve a critical disambiguating role. Second, reanalysis processes do not benefit from being able to save a particular thematic role label for a phrase; what matters is the relationship between thematic role and theta-assigner. Third, the presence of an object versus a subject relative clause in the ambiguous phrase of a garden-path sentence makes reanalysis difficult. Finally, this difficulty disappears when the verb in the main clause is passive. To explain these results, we developed a model of reanalysis that assumes the following: First, when assigners of thematic roles are encountered, all roles are made available in parallel. If roles from more than one theta-assigner must be dealt with simultaneously, processing difficulty results. If the thematic domains of two different theta-assigners must interact, even greater processing difficulty results. More precisely, processing cost results when: (i) a TPD is embedded inside another; (ii) two TPDs must interact; and (iii) two theta-assigners are adjacent. A sentence will be easy to comprehend when none of (i) through (iii) holds, harder if any one holds, harder yet if two hold, and most difficult if all three hold. Note that (i) and (iii) can hold even for non-garden-pathing sentences, including classic center-embedded sentences. Only (ii) is specifically about reanalysis of garden-path sentences. Interaction in our model refers to the construction of a TPD for one theta-assigner based on an incorrect syntactic analysis, which must then be changed to accommodate the new syntactic structure and to allow another theta-assigner to set up its TPD.


Relative Clause Rapid Serial Visual Presentation Argument Structure Sentence Processing Main Clause 
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

  • Fernanda Ferreira
    • 1
  • John M. Henderson
    • 1
  1. 1.Michigan State UniversityUSA

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