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What processing instructions do connectives provide? Disentangling relation and content prediction

Marian Marchala, Merel Scholmanab, Ted Sandersb, Vera Demberga

aUniversität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken, Germany, bUtrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands

Connectives facilitate discourse processing, by indicating to the reader how to connect the following clause with the preceding one (Cozijn et al., 2011; van Silfhout et al., 2015), and enabling readers to anticipate upcoming material (Xiang & Kuperberg, 2015; Köhne-Fuetterer et al., 2021). However, it is still unclear what exact predictions connectives elicit. Connectives might elicit predictions of the upcoming relation sense (i.e. relation prediction), or of the content in the upcoming clause (i.e. content prediction). In a self-paced reading task, we will manipulate connective presence and event predictability, while keeping plausibility constant. According to a relation prediction account, the connective should lead to shorter reading times in both event predictability conditions, whereas a content prediction account assumes an interaction between the two conditions, with a stronger facilitating effect of the connective when the following event is also predictable. In addition, we will investigate how content predictability influences the effect of connectives on discourse representation in a surprise memory task. If connectives elicit predictions about the content, they should facilitate stronger representations especially when the event is not predictable. The present study will provide more insight into the nature of the ‘processing instructions’ (Gernsbacher, 1997; van Silfhout et al., 2015) that connectives provide and on what linguistic level (propositional vs. discourse structure) predictions are made.

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