Head Position and Clause Boundary Effects in Reanalysis

  • Lars Konieczny
  • Barbara Hemforth
  • Christoph Scheepers
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 24)


Reanalysis cost has been demonstrated to be influenced by the distance of the semantic head of the ambiguous phrase to the disambiguating region (Ferreira and Henderson, 1991). F&H’s original account, based on the assumption of decaying activation levels of multiple thematic frames, as well as its recently updated version (Ferreira & Henderson, in press), will be discussed in the light of empirical evidence from an eye-tracking study on German NP- vs. elliptic VP-coordination ambiguities. Head position was varied by using pre-nominal APs and post-nominal PPs or RCs.

The results suggest that the head position, i.e. its distance from the disambiguating material, does in fact influence the strength of the garden-path effect. However, Ferreira and Henderson’s (1991) model of parallel thematic frame activation and decay fails to provide a straightforward explanation, since in the constructions investigated here, disambiguation does not (necessarily) coincide with the recovery of a recently abandoned thematic frame. Furthermore, the data also seem to be inconsistent with Ferreira and Henderson’s (in press) latest proposal based on the introduction of additional thematic processing domains in the cases of PPs and RCs, but not in APs. In general, the results constrain the class of potential (de-)activation-based models such as Ferreira and Henderson’s (1991) and Stevenson’s (1993), and provide important insights in how these models have to be revised to be compatible with the empirical findings. We also offer an alternative explanation based on the amount of semantic unpacking required for re-interpretation.


Reading Time Head Position Modifier Type Relative Clause Syntactic Complexity 
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.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lars Konieczny
    • 1
  • Barbara Hemforth
    • 1
  • Christoph Scheepers
    • 1
  1. 1.University of FreiburgGermany

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