Discourse constraints on syntactic processing in language production: A cross-linguistic study in English and Spanish

M Prat-Sala, Holly Branigan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We present two experiments that examine how prior discourse context, and in particular the relative salience of different pieces of information, influences the syntactic structure that a speaker assigns to a subsequent utterance. In a picture description task in two languages (English and Spanish), speakers produced syntactic structures that allowed an entity made salient by a preceding discourse to precede a nonsalient entity. This tendency was stronger when the salient entity was animate than when it was inanimate. We suggest that when discourse makes one entity more salient than another, it temporarily makes that entity more accessible. We propose that such derived accessibility is additive to an entity's inherent accessibility, which is determined by its intrinsic semantic features. We discuss this approach in the light of previous work which emphasizes the importance of information accessibility in syntactic processing (e.g., Beck & Irwin, 1980; Beck st Warren, 1985; McDonald. Beck, & Kelly, 1993: Osgood, 1971;Sridhar, 1988). (C) 2000 Academic Press.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-182
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Volume42
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2000

Keywords

  • language production
  • discourse salience
  • syntactic processing
  • word order
  • SENTENCE FORMULATION
  • 1ST MENTION
  • INFORMATION
  • ADVANTAGE
  • WORD
  • COMPREHENSION
  • PERSISTENCE
  • RETRIEVAL
  • ORDER
  • FORM

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