The influence of sense-contingent argument structure frequencies on ambiguity resolution in aphasia

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Verbs with multiple senses can show varying argument structure frequencies, depending on the underlying sense. When acknowledge is used to mean ‘recognise’, it takes a direct object (DO), but when it is used to mean ‘admit’ it prefers a sentence complement (SC). The purpose of this study was to investigate whether people with aphasia (PWA) can exploit such meaning-structure probabilities during the reading of temporarily ambiguous sentences, as demonstrated for neurologically healthy individuals (NHI) in a self-paced reading study (Hare et al., 2003). Eleven people with mild or moderate aphasia and eleven neurologically healthy control participants read sentences while their eyes were tracked. Using adapted materials from the study by Hare et al. target sentences containing an SC structure (e.g. He acknowledged (that) his friends would probably help him a lot) were presented following a context prime that biased either a direct object (DO-bias) or sentence complement (SC-bias) reading of the verbs. Half of the stimuli sentences did not contain that so made the post verbal noun phrase (his friends) structurally ambiguous. Both groups of participants were influenced by structural ambiguity as well as by the context bias, indicating that PWA can, like NHI, use their knowledge of a verb's sense-based argument structure frequency during online sentence reading. However, the individuals with aphasia showed delayed reading patterns and some individual differences in their sensitivity to context and ambiguity cues. These differences compared to the NHI may contribute to difficulties in sentence comprehension in aphasia.HighlightsEye-tracking while reading paradigm used to study structural ambiguity in aphasia.A context sentence cues probabilistic associations between verb sense and structure.Readers with aphasia and controls are sensitive to these probabilistic associations.Readers with aphasia and controls use this information to overcome ambiguity.But individuals with aphasia demonstrate delayed processing.

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