Sensitivity to Speaker Control in the Online Comprehension of Conditional Tips and Promises: An Eye-Tracking Study

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Abstract

Statements of the form if… then… can be used to communicate conditional speech acts such as tips and promises. Conditional promises require the speaker to have perceived control over the outcome event, whereas conditional tips do not. In an eye-tracking study, we examined whether readers are sensitive to information about perceived speaker control during processing of conditionals embedded in context. On a number of eye-tracking measures, we found that readers are sensitive to whether or not the speaker of a conditional has perceived control over the consequent event; conditional promises (which require the speaker to have perceived control over the consequent) result in processing disruption for contexts where this control is absent. Conditional tips (which do not require perceived control) are processed equivalently easily regardless of context. These results suggest that readers rapidly utilize pragmatic information related to perceived control in order to represent conditional speech acts as they are read.

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