Implicit prosody and contextual bias in silent reading

Kate McCurdy, Gerrit Kentner, Shravan Vasishth

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Eye-movement research on implicit prosody has found effects of lexical stress on syntactic ambiguity resolution, suggesting that metrical well-formedness constraints interact with syntactic category assignment. Building on these findings, the present eyetracking study investigates whether contextual bias can modulate the effects of metrical structure on syntactic ambiguity resolution in silent reading. Contextual bias and potential stress-clash in the ambiguous region were crossed in a 2 2 design. Participants read biased context sentences followed by temporarily ambiguous test sentences. In the three-word ambiguous region, main effects of lexical stress were dominant, while early effects of context were absent. Potential stress clash yielded a significant increase in first-pass regressions and re-reading probability across the
three words. In the disambiguating region, the disambiguating word itself showed increased processing difficulty (lower skipping and increased re-reading probability) when the disambiguation engendered a stress clash configuration, while the word immediately following showed main effects of context in those same measures. Taken together, effects of lexical stress upon eye movements were swift and pervasive across first-pass and second-pass measures, while effects of context were relatively delayed. These results indicate a strong role for implicit meter in guiding parsing, one that appears insensitive to higher-level constraints. Our findings are problematic for two classes of models, the two-stage garden-path model and the constraint-based competition-integration model, but can be explained by a variation on the two-stage model, the unrestricted race model.

Journal of Eye Movement Research