Predictive processing of syntactic structure: Sluicing and ellipsis in real-time sentence processing

Masaya Yoshida, Michael Walsh Dickey, Patrick Sturt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This paper investigates the prediction of syntactic structure during sentence processing, using constructions that temporarily allow a sluicing interpretation in English. Making use of two well-known properties of sluicing and pronoun interpretation—connectivity effects and the local antecedent requirement on reflexives, respectively—we show that (1) the parser chooses a sluicing structure over other possible structures when sluicing is a possibility, and (2) the structure which the parser posits for sluicing involves detailed hierarchical syntactic structure. A self-paced reading experiment and three offline experiments (two acceptability rating studies and a sentence completion study) find evidence that readers immediately try to associate a reflexive pronoun embedded inside a wh-phrase with a potential antecedent in the preceding clause. However, this association is made only if a sluicing structure is a possible continuation of the sentence. This finding suggests that readers actively anticipated a sluicing structure when it was grammatically permissible, and that this structure is sufficiently detailed to license reflexive binding. This result adds to the increasing evidence that comprehenders make detailed predictions regarding upcoming linguistic structure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-302
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Volume28
Issue number3
Early online date5 Mar 2012
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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