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Deaf readers’ response to syntactic complexity: Evidence from self-paced reading

Abstract

This study was designed to determine the feasibility of using self-paced reading methods to study deaf readers and to assess how deaf readers respond to two syntactic manipulations. Three groups of participants read the test sentences: deaf readers, hearing monolingual English readers, and hearing bilingual readers whose second language was English. In Experiment 1, the participants read sentences containing subject-relative or object-relative clauses. The test sentences contained semantic information that would influence online processing outcomes (Traxler, Morris, & Seely Journal of Memory and Language 47: 69–90, 2002; Traxler, Williams, Blozis, & Morris Journal of Memory and Language 53: 204–224, 2005). All of the participant groups had greater difficulty processing sentences containing object-relative clauses. This difficulty was reduced when helpful semantic cues were present. In Experiment 2, participants read active-voice and passive-voice sentences. The sentences were processed similarly by all three groups. Comprehension accuracy was higher in hearing readers than in deaf readers. Within deaf readers, native signers read the sentences faster and comprehended them to a higher degree than did nonnative signers. These results indicate that self-paced reading is a useful method for studying sentence interpretation among deaf readers.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Hansen and Fowler (1987) found evidence that proficient college-aged deaf readers were capable of performing accurately on phonological judgment tasks, indicating some knowledge of auditory phonology. However, it is unknown whether knowledge of auditory phonology promotes reading skill among the deaf or develops as a byproduct of increases in literacy skill (Goldin-Meadow & Mayberry, 2001; Mayberry, 2010).

  2. 2.

    A trace is a hypothetical mental element that serves as a placeholder when a constituent is in an unusual position in the verbatim form of the sentence (Chomsky, 1981). See Pickering and Barry (1991) and Traxler and Pickering (1996) for an alternative syntactic analysis, under which constituents are directly linked to lexical heads, rather than being associated with traces that are linked to lexical heads.

  3. 3.

    The universality of the object-relative penalty is a current topic in sentence-processing research. Chinese and Basque are two languages that may pattern differently from English and other Western European languages (Carreiras, Duñabeitia, Vergara, de la Cruz-Paviae, & Lakae, 2010; Chen, Aihua, Hongyan, & Dunlap, 2008), although this is not yet firmly established.

  4. 4.

    Extended overviews of relative-clause processing accounts, including those appealing to effects of discourse elements that intervene between dependent elements, can be found in Mak et al. (2002), Traxler et al. (2002; Traxler et al., 2005), and Gordon et al. (2001). A full discussion of these accounts and their empirical basis is beyond the scope of this article.

  5. 5.

    These instructions had been used in previous eyetracking studies involving subject and object relatives (Traxler et al., 2012; Traxler et al., 2002; Traxler et al., 2005).

  6. 6.

    For completeness, the following describes how the multilevel models were configured:

    Level 1: RT for person i, item j = B 0i  + B 1i (clause type) j  + B 2i (animacy) j  + B 3i (Clause Type × Animacy) j  + e ij

    Level 2: B 0i = g 00 + g 01 (English) + g 02 (bilingual) + u 0

    \( \begin{array}{c}\hfill {B}_{1\mathrm{i}}={g}_{10}+{g}_{11}\left(\mathrm{English}\right)+{g}_{12}\left(\mathrm{bilingual}\right)+{u}_1\hfill \\ {}\hfill {B}_{2\mathrm{i}}={g}_{20}+{g}_{21}\left(\mathrm{English}\right)+{g}_{22}\left(\mathrm{bilingual}\right)+{u}_2\hfill \\ {}\hfill {B}_{3\mathrm{i}}={g}_{30}+{g}_{31}\left(\mathrm{English}\right)+{g}_{32}\left(\mathrm{bilingual}\right)+{u}_3\hfill \end{array} \)

    B 0i , B 1i , B 2i , and B 3i represent baseline reading times (inanimate, subject-relative condition), the effect of changing from subject- to object-relative in the inanimate condition, the effect of changing from inanimate to animate in the subject-relative condition, and the effect of changing to the animate, object-relative condition, respectively. e ij represents random error in the Level 1 outcomes. g 00, g 10, g 20, and g 30 represent the mean values of the corresponding Level 1 parameters in the native signers. The other g parameters reflect deviations in the Level 1 parameters associated with membership in the English and bilingual groups. The u parameters reflect random error in the Level 2 outcomes.

    Each participant had up to 28 responses. A second set of models was run in which RTs were considered as being nested within items rather than participants. For the by-items models, transpose the person and item.

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Author Note

The authors thank three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on previous drafts. They also thank all of the participants in the study. This research was supported by awards from the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1024003) and the National Institutes of Health (Grant No. R01HD073948) to the first author. This research was also supported by the National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center Program, under Cooperative Agreement Nos. SBE-0541953 and SBE-1041725. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation.

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Appendix: Experimental items

Appendix: Experimental items

Experiment 1: Subject and object relatives with animate and inanimate subjects

The musician that witnessed the accident angered the policeman a lot.

The musician that the accident terrified angered the policeman a lot.

The accident that terrified the musician angered the policeman a lot.

The accident that the musician witnessed angered the policeman a lot.

The contestant that misplaced the prize made a big impression on Mary.

The contestant that the prize delighted made a big impression on Mary.

The prize that delighted the contestant made a big impression on Mary.

The prize that the contestant misplaced made a big impression on Mary.

The cowboy that carried the pistol was known to be unreliable.

The cowboy that the pistol injured was known to be unreliable.

The pistol that injured the cowboy was known to be unreliable.

The pistol that the cowboy carried was known to be unreliable.

The scientist that studied the climate did not interest the reporter.

The scientist that the climate annoyed did not interest the reporter.

The climate that annoyed the scientist did not interest the reporter.

The climate that the scientist studied did not interest the reporter.

The director that watched the movie received a prize at the film festival.

The director that the movie pleased received a prize at the film festival.

The movie that pleased the director received a prize at the film festival.

The movie that the director watched received a prize at the film festival.

The student that attended the school was visited by the governor.

The student that the school educated was visited by the governor.

The school that educated the student was visited by the governor.

The school that the student attended was visited by the governor.

The teacher that watched the play upset a few of the students.

The teacher that the play angered upset a few of the students.

The play that angered the teacher upset a few of the students.

The play that the teacher watched upset a few of the students.

The woman that reported the accident caused a number of serious injuries.

The woman that the accident bothered caused a number of serious injuries.

The accident that bothered the woman caused a number of serious injuries.

The accident that the woman reported caused a number of serious injuries.

The plumber that dropped the wrench was found near the back door.

The plumber that the wrench bruised was found near the back door.

The wrench that bruised the plumber was found near the back door.

The wrench that the plumber dropped was found near the back door.

The banker that refused the loan created a problem for the mayor.

The banker that the loan worried created a problem for the mayor.

The loan that worried the banker created a problem for the mayor.

The loan that the banker refused created a problem for the mayor.

The lawyer that reviewed the trial was covered by the national media.

The lawyer that the trial confused was covered by the national media.

The trial that confused the lawyer was covered by the national media.

The trial that the lawyer reviewed was covered by the national media.

The psychologist that printed the notes got lost somewhere in the basement.

The psychologist that the notes annoyed got lost somewhere in the basement.

The notes that annoyed the psychologist got lost somewhere in the basement.

The notes that the psychologist printed got lost somewhere in the basement.

The child that loaded the revolver injured the teenage babysitter.

The child that the revolver scared injured the teenage babysitter.

The revolver that scared the child injured the teenage babysitter.

The revolver that the child loaded injured the teenage babysitter.

The golfer that mastered the game was ignored by most sports writers.

The golfer that the game excited was ignored by most sports writers.

The game that excited the golfer was ignored by most sports writers.

The game that the golfer mastered was ignored by most sports writers.

The salesman that examined the product was mentioned in the newsletter.

The salesman that the product excited was mentioned in the newsletter.

The product that excited the salesman was mentioned in the newsletter.

The product that the salesman examined was mentioned in the newsletter.

The fireman that fought the fire caused only a small amount of damage.

The fireman that the fire burned caused only a small amount of damage.

The fire that burned the fireman caused only a small amount of damage.

The fire that the fireman fought caused only a small amount of damage.

The fish that attacked the lure impressed the fisherman quite a lot.

The fish that the lure attracted impressed the fisherman quite a lot.

The lure that attracted the fish impressed the fisherman quite a lot.

The lure that the fish attacked impressed the fisherman quite a lot.

The farmer that purchased the tractor arrived at the store late last night.

The farmer that the tractor impressed arrived at the store late last night.

The tractor that impressed the farmer arrived at the store late last night.

The tractor that the farmer purchased arrived at the store late last night.

The gardener that trimmed the plants helped make the house more attractive.

The gardener that the plants pleased helped make the house more attractive.

The plants that pleased the gardener helped make the house more attractive.

The plants that the gardener trimmed helped make the house more attractive.

The pilot that crashed the plane was grounded by the safety board.

The pilot that the plane worried was grounded by the safety board.

The plane that worried the pilot was grounded by the safety board.

The plane that the pilot crashed was grounded by the safety board.

The elephant that drank the water was located in the heart of Africa.

The elephant that the water cooled was located in the heart of Africa.

The water that cooled the elephant was located in the heart of Africa.

The water that the elephant drank was located in the heart of Africa.

The actor that rehearsed the play was given first prize at the awards dinner.

The actor that the play delighted was given first prize at the awards dinner.

The play that delighted the actor was given first prize at the awards dinner.

The play that the actor rehearsed was given first prize at the awards dinner.

The student that practiced the instrument had been around for a few months.

The student that the instrument frustrated had been around for a few months.

The instrument that frustrated the student had been around for a few months.

The instrument that the student practiced had been around for a few months.

The spy that encoded the message was smuggled out of the country in a crate.

The spy that the message alarmed was smuggled out of the country in a crate.

The message that alarmed the spy was smuggled out of the country in a crate.

The message that the spy encoded was smuggled out of the country in a crate.

Experiment 2: Actives and passives

The policeman found the lost child at the airport.

The policeman was found by the lost child at the airport.

The farmer tricked the cowboy into selling the horse.

The farmer was tricked by the cowboy into selling the horse.

The basketball player helped the coach to put away the equipment.

The basketball player was helped by the coach to put away the equipment.

The teacher criticized the principal before the school board meeting.

The teacher was criticized by the principal before the school board meeting.

The professor admired the students in the biology class.

The professor was admired by the students in the biology class.

The lion found the zebras near the watering hole.

The lion was found by the zebras near the watering hole.

The baker hired the woman to help out with the wedding.

The baker was hired by the woman to help out with the wedding.

The painter recruited the model after the art show.

The painter was recruited by the model after the art show.

The accountant visited the banker before the audit.

The accountant was visited by the banker before the audit.

The mechanic phoned the customer after the car was repaired.

The mechanic was phoned by the customer after the car was repaired.

The old lady ran over the drunk last Saturday night.

The old lady was run over by the drunk last Saturday night.

The interpreter confused the diplomat during the treaty negotiations.

The interpreter was confused by the diplomat during the treaty negotiations.

The scientist frightened the assistant during the thunderstorm.

The scientist was frightened by the assistant during the thunderstorm.

The tourist photographed the tour guide in front of the museum.

The tourist was photographed by the tour guide in front of the museum.

The comedian liked the agent with the shiny black shoes.

The comedian was liked by the agent with the shiny black shoes.

The judge smiled at the defense attorney before the trial started.

The judge was smiled at by the defense attorney before the trial started.

The cheerleader asked the football player for his phone number.

The cheerleader was asked by the football player for her phone number.

Two ducks approached the old woman who had a bag of bread crumbs.

Two ducks were approached by the old woman who had a bag of bread crumbs.

The pilot saluted the ground crew before the plane took off.

The pilot was saluted by the ground crew before the plane took off.

The salesman amused the customers at the used car dealership.

The salesman was amused by the customers at the used car dealership.

The mayor approached the councilman about the new library.

The mayor was approached by the councilman about the new library.

The coal miner pushed the bartender and the people at the bar laughed.

The coal miner was pushed by the bartender and the people at the bar laughed.

The neighbors upset the college students living next door.

The neighbors were upset by the college students living next door.

The child upset the nurse at the clinic this morning.

The child was upset by the nurse at the clinic this morning.

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Traxler, M.J., Corina, D.P., Morford, J.P. et al. Deaf readers’ response to syntactic complexity: Evidence from self-paced reading. Mem Cogn 42, 97–111 (2014). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-013-0346-1

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Keywords

  • Deaf readers
  • Syntax
  • Parsing
  • Sentence processing
  • American Sign Language
  • ASL
  • Passive voice
  • Active voice
  • Bilingual readers
  • Self-paced reading
  • Psycholinguistics