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Measuring the effect of pragmatic congruence on attachment ambiguity resolution

Liubov Darzhinova


Previous studies (e.g., Kuperberg & Jaeger, 2016; Van Petten & Luka, 2012; Levy et al., 2008) suggest that readers make context-based expectations about the stimulus being processed. Once such expectations are met, there is a reduction in processing costs or their increase when they are failed. There is a paucity of research on whether attachment preference is greatly facilitated by context-based expectations or general parsing strategy. To fill in this gap, the present study examined whether disambiguation by contextual pragmatic congruence leads to modification of general parsing strategy applicable to resolution of attachment ambiguities in Russian. The recruited participants (n = 29) read the locally ambiguous participial relative clause sentences by pressing the space bar in the self-paced reading fashion. They had to respond to the corresponding questions by choosing one of the noun phrase options. If the read sentence seemed ungrammatical or unacceptable in Russian, they had to press the button specified as ungrammatical. The reading times and responses to comprehension questions were analyzed using the generalized linear mixed-effects modeling, which revealed processing facilitation for syntactically unpreferred attachment conditions, suggesting modulation of attachment preference through pragmatic congruence. However, pragmatic congruence did not level out the ungrammaticality rate across conditions, implying no effect of pragmatic congruence on comprehension. The study stresses the importance of the facilitating role of congruence of an input with reader’s general knowledge. Thus, the study refines the psycholinguistic understanding of how human processor works with syntactic ambiguity and provides evidence for suppression of general parsing strategy in pragmatically rich contexts.

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