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Experimental Evidence For And Against The Immediate Use Of Contextual Information During Syntactic Ambiguity Resolution.

1488 words - 6 pages

Contextual knowledge assists the final interpretation of a syntactically ambiguous sentence. However, research has not reach the consensus on how and when contextual information is used by the processer with regard to ambiguity resolution.
Two-stage models imply that parsing is computed serially, with initially purely syntactic-relevant information being actively processed (Pan & Felser, 2011). The structure of the sentence is then evaluated and reanalyzed with other sources of information such as context are used in the second processing stage. The most influential model in this category is the"garden-path" model suggested by Frazier and Rayner (1982). That is, the garden-path model is a ...view middle of the document...

, 1996).
However, as opposeed to structural models, Discourse-based theories such as the Referential Theory originally proposed by Crain and Steedman (1985) and further developed by Altmann and Steedman (1988) and Ni and Crain (1990) claim that the parser’s initial syntactic analysis will be immediately affected by referential context information,with appropriate discourse contexts reversing syntactic preferences, or the preference for alternative with fewest presuppositions will be chosen. Hence, sentences that involve ambiguous PPs and where the presupposition of the NP attachment interpretation is not satisfied will result in a preference for VP modification since such analysis would require the fewest possible pragmatic presuppositions. Therefore, in a sentence The policeman watched the spy with binoculars in which the NP is fixed, the VP modification processing entails the presupposition of a single referent for this NP only; while the NP modification processing requires the parser to presuppose that there is more than one referent for the spy in the context, with the PP in a role of a restrictive modifier that detects a unique referent.According to the referential hypothesis, in the presence of discourse context that entails more than one potential referent for the postverbal NP , the parser will be required to render one of the referents, and thus , the presupposition of the NP attachment interpretation is satisfied and NP attachment should be preferred. This is in line with the study of Altmann and Steedman (1988) who examined native speakers of English read a short context paragraph that was followed by syntactically ambiguous sentences such as The burglar blew open the safe with the dynamite (with the new lock) and made off. Presented to participants sentences were disambiguated towards either VP attachment (with the dynamite) or NP attachment (with the new lock).The referential context of a preceding paragraph was manipulated to provide readers with either one or two potential discourse referents for the postverbal NP (the safe).The results revelaed that participants’ mean reading times for sentences containing NP attachment PPs were significantly faster than for those in VP attachment condition if the sentences followed after a two-referent context such as A burglar broke into a bank carrying some dynamite. He planned to blow open a safe. Once inside he saw that there was a safe with a new lock and a safe with an old lock. Longer reading times are believed to imply increased processing and thus, greater comprehension struggle. The above findings suggest that an NP attachment processing is indeed preferred over a VP attachment processing in an two-referent context. However, in a self-paced reading version of the experiment where subjects were presented with segmented sentence instead of whole one, the referential context did not consistently influenced participants’ disambiguation preferences. In contrast, prepositional...

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