Processing coordinated structures in context: The effect of topic-structure on ambiguity resolution
Hoeks, J. C. J., Vonk, W., & Schriefers, H.
Processing coordinated structures in context: The effect of topic-structure on ambiguity resolution. Journal of Memory and Language, 46
(1), 99-119. doi:10.1006/jmla.2001.2800.
When a sentence such as The model embraced the designer and the photographer laughed is read, the noun phrase the photographer is temporarily ambiguous: It can be either one of the objects of embraced (NP-coordination) or the subject of a new, conjoined sentence (S-coordination). It has been shown for a number of languages, including Dutch (the language used in this study), that readers prefer NP-coordination over S-coordination, at least in isolated sentences. In the present paper, it will be suggested that NP-coordination is preferred because it is the simpler of the two options in terms of topic-structure; in NP-coordinations there is only one topic, whereas S-coordinations contain two. Results from off-line (sentence completion) and online studies (a self-paced reading and an eye tracking experiment) support this topic-structure explanation. The processing difficulty associated with S-coordinated sentences disappeared when these sentences followed contexts favoring a two-topic continuation. This finding establishes topic-structure as an important factor in online sentence processing.