The interaction of visual and linguistic saliency during syntactic ambiguity resolution

Moreno Coco, Frank Keller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Psycholinguistic research using the visual world paradigm has shown that the processing of sentences is constrained by the visual context in which they occur. Recently, there has been growing interest in the interactions observed when both language and vision provide relevant information during sentence processing. In three visual world experiments on syntactic ambiguity resolution, we investigate how visual and linguistic information influence the interpretation of ambiguous sentences. We hypothesize that (1) visual and linguistic information both constrain which interpretation is pursued by the sentence processor, and (2) the two types of information act upon the interpretation of the sentence at different points during processing. In Experiment 1, we show that visual saliency is utilized to anticipate the upcoming arguments of a verb. In Experiment 2, we operationalize linguistic saliency using intonational breaks and demonstrate that these give prominence to linguistic referents. These results confirm prediction (1). In Experiment 3, we manipulate visual and linguistic saliency together and find that both types of information are used, but at different points in the sentence, to incrementally update its current interpretation. This finding is consistent with prediction (2). Overall, our results suggest an adaptive processing architecture in which different types of information are used when they become available, optimizing different aspects of situated language processing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-74
Number of pages28
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2015


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