Automatic Analogical Reasoning Underlies Structural Priming in Comprehension of Ambiguous Sentences

Vencislav PopovNew Bulgarian University
Penka HristovaNew Bulgarian University

Abstract

The structure of previous sentences influences both production and comprehension of subsequent sentences, although there is less support for the latter. This effect, called structural priming, supposedly results from the repetition of syntactic structure, while evidence for the influence of thematic roles is controversial. We suggest that structural priming is achieved by automatic analogical mapping and transfer, which predicts that the thematic structure should be primed too. An experiment showed that the shared thematic structure is responsible for structural priming in comprehension of ambiguous sentences, rather than the syntactic structure. When participants read an unambiguous base sentence with an instrumental thematic role, they tended to interpret the corresponding role in the ambiguous prepositional phrase in the target as an instrument as well. This effect was present only when base and target sentences shared their whole thematic structure, not only the key role and in the absence of syntactic repetition.

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