Syntactic Ambiguity Resolution in Discourse: Modeling the Effects of Referential Context and Lexical Frequency

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Abstract

Sentences with temporarily ambiguous reduced relative clauses (e.g., The actress selected by the director believed that …) were preceded by discourse contexts biasing a main clause or a relative clause. Eye movements in the disambiguating region (by the director) revealed that, in the relative clause biasing contexts, ambiguous reduced relatives were no more difficult to process than unambiguous reduced relatives or full (unreduced) relatives. Regression analyses demonstrated that the effects of discourse context at the point of ambiguity (e.g., selected) interacted with the past participle frequency of the ambiguous verb. Reading times were modeled using a constraint-based competition framework in which multiple constraints are immediately integrated during parsing and interpretation. Simulations suggested that this framework reconciles the superficially conflicting results in the literature on referential context effects on syntactic ambiguity resolution.

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