Psychologische Forschung

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 50–67 | Cite as

Semantic determinants of pauses

  • Daniel C. O'Connell
  • Sabine Kowal
  • Hans Hörmann


The following experiment presents evidence that variations in semantic context can produce changes in the rate and length of pauses in a situation in which syntactic and other variations are minimized. Each of 40 Ss read two paragraphs aloud and after each paragraph retold the “story” without further instructions. Each paragraph consisted of five sentences, each containing 23 syllables. The third sentence was either in accord with the story or an unusual occurrence (depending on exchange of subject and object). The most important experimental finding was that both number and length of unfilled pauses are more frequent throughout the unusual stories as compared with the usual ones. In the readings, the effect was limited to the critical sentence and the pauses immediately thereafter. The evidence supports the view of the authors that the role of semantic context has been underestimated in psycholiguistic research to date.


Experimental Finding Semantic Context Unusual Occurrence Critical Sentence Semantic Determinant 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Normal Sematic Context


Abnormal Sematic Context


Preceeded by Normal Sematic Context


Preceeded by Anormal Sematic Context


The Student Story


The Child Story


Unfilled Pauses


Filled Pauses (e.g. uh)


Unfilled Pauses accompanying FPs


Repeats (e.g., the the)


False Starts (e.g., He went .... He came)

R1 and R2

First and Second Readings

S1 and S2

First and Second Stories


UPs between Major Syntactic Units


UPs within Major Syntactic Units


Das folgende Experiment weist darauf hin, daß Variationen des semantischen Kontextes zu Veränderungen in der Anzahl und Länge von Pausen führen können, auch wenn syntaktische und andere Variationen kontrolliert werden. 40 Vpn lasen zwei Abschnitte laut vor und erzählten die „Geschichte“ nach jedem Abschnitt ohne weitere Instruktion. Jeder Abschnitt bestand aus fünf Sätzen, jeder Satz enthielt 23 Silben. Der dritte Satz stimmte mit dem sonstigen Inhalt der Geschichte überein oder wich davon ab (durch Austausch von Subjekt und Objekt). Als wichtigster experimenteller Befund stellte sich heraus, daß bei den ungewöhnlichen Geschichten die Anzahl und Länge der ungefüllten Pausen größer waren als bei den normalen Geschichten. Bei den Lesungen trat dieser Effekt nur innerhalb des kritischen Satzes und unmittelbar danach auf. Die Ergebnisse unterstützen die Meinung der Autoren, daß die Rolle des semantischen Kontextes in der psycholinguistischen Forschung bisher vernachlässigt wurde.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel C. O'Connell
    • 1
  • Sabine Kowal
    • 2
  • Hans Hörmann
    • 2
  1. 1.Saint Louis UniversityUSA
  2. 2.Free University of BerlinGermany

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