The effect of nonadopted analyses on sentence processing

Zhenguang G. Cai*, Patrick Sturt, Martin J. Pickering

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Are comprehenders affected by an alternative analysis that they do not adopt (a nonadopted analysis) in case of syntactic ambiguity? If the processor only considers and maintains the preferred analysis at a given time, an alternative analysis is then not considered and will hence not affect processing. In two experiments, we examined the processing of the ambiguity in English object-cleft sentences such as Because it was John that Ralph threatened the neighbour recorded their conversation, where the NP the neighbour is temporally ambiguous between a preferred subject analysis (subject of the main clause) and an object analysis (object of the preceding verb threatened). We found that though the object analysis was not adopted and maintained by the processor, it disrupted sentence processing. Such an effect was mediated by plausibility: It disappeared when the object analysis had an implausible interpretation. Overall, the results suggest that people consider an alternative analysis even when they do not maintain it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1286-1311
Number of pages26
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number9
Early online date21 Oct 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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