A new argument for co-active parses during language comprehension.


One perennially important question for theories of sentence comprehension is whether the human sentence processing mechanism is parallel (i.e., it simultaneously represents multiple syntactic analyses of linguistic input) or serial (i.e., it constructs only a single analysis at a time). Despite its centrality, this question has proven difficult to address for both theoretical and methodological reasons (Gibson & Pearlmutter, 2000; Lewis, 2000). In the present study, we reassess this question from a novel perspective. We investigated the well-known ambiguity advantage effect (Traxler, Pickering, & Clifton, 1998) in a speeded acceptability judgment task. We adopted a signal detection theoretic approach to these data, with the goal of determining whether speeded judgment responses were conditioned on one or multiple syntactic analyses. To link these results to incremental parsing models, we developed formal models to quantitatively evaluate how serial and parallel parsing models should impact perceived sentence acceptability in our task. Our results suggest that speeded acceptability judgments are jointly conditioned on multiple parses of the input, a finding that is overall more consistent with parallel parsing models than serial models. Our study thus provides a new, psychophysical argument for coactive parses during language comprehension.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, advance online publication