Syntactic Priming During Sentence Comprehension: Evidence for the Lexical Boost

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Syntactic priming occurs when structural information from one sentence influences processing of a subsequently encountered sentence (Bock, 1986; Ledoux et al., 2007). This article reports 2 eye-tracking experiments investigating the effects of a prime sentence on the processing of a target sentence that shared aspects of syntactic form. The experiments were designed to determine the degree to which lexical overlap between prime and target sentences produced larger effects, comparable to the widely observed “lexical boost” in production experiments (Pickering & Branigan, 1998; Pickering & Ferreira, 2008). The current experiments showed that priming effects during online comprehension were in fact larger when a verb was repeated across the prime and target sentences (see also Tooley et al., 2009). The finding of larger priming effects with lexical repetition supports accounts under which syntactic form representations are connected to individual lexical items (e.g., Tomasello, 2003; Vosse & Kempen, 2000, 2009).

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