Factors Affecting Sentence Processing – UROP Spring Symposium 2021

Factors Affecting Sentence Processing

Vivian Ku


Pronouns: she/her

Research Mentor(s): Emily Atkinson, Research Fellow
Research Mentor School/College/Department: Weinberg Institute of Cognitive Science, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
Presentation Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021
Session: Session 2 (11am – 11:50am)
Breakout Room: Room 3
Presenter: 2

Event Link


This psycholinguistic study examines sentences with filler-gap dependencies, which are sentence constructions where its related clauses are not next to one another and require instantaneous predictions from the reader to connect these relative clauses. For instance, in the sentence “What did John paint?”, the word “what” can only be interpreted once the reader reaches the word “paint”. Just like in this sentence, readers oftentimes predict that the object of the sentence connects with the first verb encountered immediately after. The predictive tendency people use when reading often causes difficulty processing sentences where there is a plausibility mismatch between the object and the first immediate verb. This difficulty is seen in the phrase, “the city the author wrote about”. The object, “city”, is mismatched with the word “wrote” because cities cannot write. This experiment specifically explores whether or not a sizable amount of memory information can disrupt these predictive associations when processing filler-gap dependency sentences. To conduct this study, participants were administered self-paced reading tests where they were given randomized sentences to read. As a measure of reading and sentence processing difficulty, reading time for each word of the sentence was recorded. This study is ongoing and continuing to run experiments, meaning the results are still unknown. However, it is hypothesized that because sentence processing changes as a result of an overload of information, filler-gap dependency sentences with an information overload will require a longer time to process plausibility mismatches than sentences without a memory overload, even in the presence of circumstances that would normally eliminate difficulty interpreting plausibility mismatches. There are a multitude of theories attempting to explain how people process filler-gap dependency sentences, but through this study, there is hope that a greater understanding of language processing will be achieved.

Authors: Vivian Ku
Research Method: Qualitative Study

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