A cross-linguistic investigation of proactive, similarity-based retrieval interference in sentence comprehension: No support from English, German and Russian eye-tracking data


Cue-based parsing theories posit that dependency resolution during real-time sentence comprehension relies on cue-based retrieval of linguistic items encoded in memory. This retrieval mechanism is prone to similarity-based interference, which can occur when there are items in memory that are similar to the retrieval target. Interference during sentence comprehension seems to be well-established across numerous syntactic dependencies; however, the evidence for interference on within-sentence dependencies from sentence-external lexical items (encoded in memory prior to reading a target dependency) is inconclusive (Van Dyke &McElree, 2006; Van Dyke et al., 2014). The goal of the present study is to provide a large-scale cross-linguistic investigation of retrieval interference from sentence-external distractors under varying processing demands. Three larger-sample eye-tracking studies in English (N=66),German (N=122) and Russian (N=109) show no support for similarity-based interference from sentence-external material during sentence comprehension. We discuss the implications of our findings for cue-based parsing theories

Under review