Recent research has shown much evidence that sentence comprehension can be extremely predictive. However, we currently know little about the limits of predictive processing. In the two eye-tracking experiments, we examined whether predictive information in dependency formation is inevitably given priority over a well-known structural preference in syntactic ambiguity resolution. Experiment 1 used sentences including control nouns like order (e.g. After Andrew’s order to wash the kids came over to the house). If predictive dependency information is given priority over disambiguation preferences, then readers could immediately interpret the kids as the ones who have been ordered to wash, thus avoiding the garden path at the main verb came. However, garden path effects were found irrespective of control information, although the garden path difficulty was reduced when the lexical control information highlighted the globally correct analysis (as in the above example), relative to when it did not. Experiment 2 replicated these results with adjunct control, where the relevant dependency is obligatory (e.g. After refusing to wash the kids came over to the house). Again, control information did not influence initial disambiguation, but did affect the difficulty of garden path recovery. Overall, the results suggest that there are limitations on the influence of predictive dependency formation on on-line structural disambiguation.
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