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Information structure lecture series 2008 -

Abstract Pyykkönen

I will present studies investigating the relationship between visually depicted entities and the processing of dative verbs. Research using the visual world eye-tracking method has shown that when listening to sentences people often direct their attention to entities in the visual scene that have not been mentioned yet. These anticipatory looks have been interpreted as an index of the prediction listeners make about the next upcoming word in a sentence (e.g., Altmann & Kamide, 1999; Kamide et al., 2003).
We manipulated both the salience and the given-new relationship of the object arguments of ditransitive verbs in discourse.
Our results suggest that, rather than looking at the entity that is the most likely referent of the next word, people may direct their attention to new/non-salient entities in discourse. For example, when people heard the story (1), they started to fixate the picture of the book already while hearing “had given” rather than the picture of the child that would be the next linguistic entity predicted based on the “given before new” preference observed in earlier studies (e.g., Arnold et al., 2000; Bock & Warren, 1985; Clifton & Frazier, 2004).

(1)    The child was lying in the play room of the nursery. The child was a little restless and naughty. That morning the nursery school teacher had given [the child the book/the book to the child] and read a couple of stories.

The results suggest that looking at pictures of new or non-salient referents facilitates online processing more than looking at given, salient objects that are already active in the current mental representation of the ongoing discourse.

Last checked 2010-10-05 by Christine Dimroth

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