Implicit prosody pulls its weight: Recovery from garden path sentences


Classic reduced relative clause garden path sentences (e.g., The horse raced past the barn fell) are notoriously difficult to comprehend, even after repeated exposure (Bever, 1970; Frazier, 1979). We present a silent eye tracking experiment showing that increasing the weight of the matrix verb phrase with a particle or an adverbial facilitates recovery from misanalysis, as in The horse raced past the barn fell (down / suddenly), but does not protect the processor from the incorrect parse, in which raced is erroneously understood as the main verb rather than a verb within a relative clause. Following Fodor’s (2002) Implicit Prosody Hypothesis, we suggest that additional weight after the main verb (fell) reduces the penalty for garden path by signaling the prosodic boundary appropriate for a full relative clause (Frazier & Clifton, 1996, 1998; Hirose, 2003). In addition, there were few differences between short but highly predictable particles (down) and long but less predictable adverbials (suddenly), where predictability was determined by a separate offline completion study. The results highlight the essential role that implicit prosodic constituency plays in garden path recovery, in that it provides structurally relevant cues identifying the source of misanalysis (Frazier & Rayner, 1982; Fodor & Inoue, 1994).

In the Proceedings of Speech Prosody 8, 207-211