Prosody of classic garden path sentences: The horse raced faster when embedded

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ConferenceSpeech Prosody 2018
Conference date(s)13/06/1817/06/18
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DatePublished - 1 Jan 2018
Number of pages5
Original languageEnglish


Prosody, it is assumed, does not always disambiguate syntax. We investigate one classic case at point from the psycholinguistics literature: garden path sentences involving the main-verb vs. reduced relative clause contrast (the horse raced past the barn (and) fell). Despite their centrality in shaping theoies of sentence processing, no experimental work to date has investigated the prosody of these sentences. We show that, contrary to previous assumptions (Fodor 2002, Wagner & Watson 2010), this contrast is prosodically disambiguated, but that this disambiguation can only be observed when the relevant clauses are embedded within a matrix clause which provides a baseline pace. Prosodic disambiguation obtains through pace modulation, with faster pace associated with the embedded/reduced relative reading and regular pace (no change) with the main-verb analysis. The essential contribution of the matrix sentence is to provide a baseline pace without which it is impossible to establish whether a change took place. Importantly, duration is solely determined by prosody and independent from complexity: faster pace is associated with the more complex structure.

    Research areas

  • Prosodic disambiguation, Pace, Complexity, GARDEN-PATH SENTENCES, embedding, sisterhood, Nesting, Embedding vs. sisterhood, Garden-path sentences

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