Garden-path no more: How prosody resolves the Complement Clauses / Relative Clauses ambiguity

Nino Grillo, Andrea Santi, Miriam Aguilar, Leah Roberts, Giuseppina Turco

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


Prosody has been shown to successfully disambiguate a selected number of
garden-path sentences (see e.g. Kjelgaard & Speer 1999; Grillo et al. 2018 and
Wagner & Watson 2010 for review). We extend this work by showing that: -
Speakers prosodically disambiguate Complement Clauses (CCs: John [told [the
woman] [that he was running with Bill]]) and Relative Clauses (RCs: John [told
[the woman [that he was running with] [to wait]]). -Moreover, listeners are
sensitive to this prosodic disambiguation and can use it to avoid garden-path
effects. EXP1: A Planned Production (N=10 English speakers), 24 target
sentences shows that speakers make use of both temporal and tonal cues to
disambiguate the two readings. EXP2: In a Forced-Choice Comprehension task,
60 participants heard sentence fragments up to (but not including) the
disambiguating region of ambiguous CC/RC (e.g. John told the woman that he
was running with…) and selected between CC (Bill) and RC (to wait)
continuations. Sentences contained prosodic disambiguation consistent with
EXP1. Results: Main effect of Prosody (p<.0001). % of RC-choices RC-Prosody:
57.9% CC-Prosody: 25.5% Post-hoc analysis removing 8 outlier participants
(who always only selected the CC continuation) showed the prosodically
targeted structure being selected equivalently (70%) across conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023
EventArchitectures and Mechanisms of Language Processing 2023 - BCBL - Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language, San Sebastian/Donostia, Spain
Duration: 31 Aug 20232 Sept 2023


ConferenceArchitectures and Mechanisms of Language Processing 2023
Abbreviated titleAMLaP23
CitySan Sebastian/Donostia
Internet address


  • Psycholinguistics
  • Linguistics
  • Sentence Processing
  • Prosody

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