The Effects of Discourse Cues on Garden Path Processing

Abstract

We report a self-paced reading study that investigated garden-path sentences like While the man hunted {a/the} deer ran into the woods. In such sentences, the critical noun (deer) tends to be misparsed as an object of the preceding verb, and has to be re-analyzed as a subject of the following clause when the disambiguating verb (e.g. ran) is encountered. We build on earlier corpus work which found a relationship between syntactic function and information status: Subjects tend to be already-mentioned information/definite, while objects are typically new/indefinite. We investigated whether the noun’s information status influences processing and whether this effect depends on the verb’s argument structure. Results showed that information status matters when processing the noun after optionally transitive verbs (hunt) but not after reflexive absolute verbs (wash). These results suggest that access to discourse-level representations during noun phrase re-analysis is modulated by verb argument structure.


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