Sun-Ah Jun, UCLA

Friday, April 11th at 4pm in Humanities One - Room 210

Prominence and phrasing in ambiguity resolution:
Evidence from priming and individual differences 

In a sentence such as Someone shot the servant of the actress who was on the balcony, it is ambiguous whether the relative clause (RC) modifies NP1 the servant (i.e., high attachment) or NP2 the actress (low attachment). Although the details of attachment preference are language-specific (Fodor 1998, Fernández 2003), it is known that, crosslinguistically, attachment decisions are sensitive to the sentence’s prosodic characteristics, including the location of a prosodic boundary. This fact has been used to support the Implicit Prosody Hypothesis (IPH; Fodor 1998, 2002), which holds that the human sentence parser favors low attachment when the RC forms a single prosodic phrase with NP2, but favors high attachment when a prosodic break directly precedes the RC. In this talk, I will provide new evidence supporting the IPH based on two experiments using the structural priming paradigm. These experiments show that attachment decisions for a target sentence are influenced by an explicit, as well as an implicit, prosodic boundary in a prime sentence. However, I will also show that sensitivity to a prosodic boundary varies across individuals, and is in part predictable based on “autistic”-like traits. A mechanism underlying this variation will be discussed.

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