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Semantic indeterminacy in object relative clauses

By Silvia P. Gennari and Maryellen C. MacDonald

Abstract

This article examined whether semantic indeterminacy plays a role in comprehension of complex structures such as object relative clauses. Study 1 used a gated sentence completion task to assess which alternative interpretations are dominant as the relative clause unfolds; Study 2 compared reading times in object relative clauses containing different animacy configurations to unambiguous passive controls; and Study 3 related completion data and reading data. The results showed that comprehension difficulty was modulated by animacy configuration and voice (active vs. passive). These differences were well correlated with the availability of alternative interpretations as the relative clause unfolds, as revealed by the completion data. In contrast to approaches arguing that comprehension difficulty stems from syntactic complexity, these results suggest that semantic indeterminacy is a major source of comprehension difficulty in object relative clauses. Results are consistent with constraint-based approaches to ambiguity resolution and bring new insights into previously identified sources of difficulty. (C) 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved

Topics: 1203, 3205, 3310
Year: 2008
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.jml.2007.07.004
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:3724

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