, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 239-250

Parallel parsing: Evidence from reactivation in garden-path sentences

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Abstract

An all-visual, on-line, lexical priming technique was used to investigate whether the human sentence processor computes syntactic representations serially or in parallel. Structurally ambiguous garden-path sentences such as the following were studied: “The psychologist told the wife that the man bumpedthat her car was stolen.” Despite the strong preference for the sentential-complement reading of the ambiguous region (italicized), a reactivation effect for the head of the relative clause (wife) was observed immediately following the presentation of the embedded verb (bumped), suggesting that the relative clause analysis is also computed. This finding is taken as evidence for parallel parsing since both possible analyses were shown to have a processing reflection simultaneously: Computation of the sentential-complement analysis was demonstrated by the fact that readers garden-path when that analysis turns out to be incorrect, and computation of the relative clause analysis was demonstrated by the reactivation effect.

This work has benefitted from helpful suggestions and comments from many people including Enriqueta Canseco, Stephen Crain, Ted Gibson, Janet Nicol, Neal Pearlmutter, Lew Shapiro, David Swinney, Art Wingfield, and especially Jane Grimshaw and Edgar Zurif. This research was carried out as a portion of my doctoral dissertation at Brandeis University. This manuscript was prepared with the support of the McDonnell-Pew Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT.