Prosodic parsing: The role of prosody in sentence comprehension

1997 1997

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Abstract (summary)

This work presents an investigation of how prosodic information is used in natural language processing and how prosody should be incorporated into models of sentence comprehension. It is argued that the processing system builds a prosodic representation in the early stages of processing, and is guided by this prosodic representation through multiple stages of analysis. Specifically, the results of four sentence comprehension experiments demonstrate that prosodic phrasing influences syntactic attachment decisions, focus interpretation, and the availability of contextual information in the resolution of lexical ambiguity. Two explicit hypotheses of how prosodic structure is used in processing are proposed to account for these effects: one which accounts for effects of phonological phrasing on syntactic processing decisions and a second which accounts for effects of intonational phrasing on semantic/pragmatic interpretation.

Three sources of evidence are provided in support of the central claim that the processor must build and use a prosodic representation from the early stages of processing. First, an experiment on the resolution of prepositional phrase attachment ambiguity demonstrates that syntactic attachment decisions are influenced by the overall pattern of phonological phrasing in utterance, and not simply by prosodic boundaries located at the point of syntactic ambiguity. Thus, the effects of a single kind of prosodic element, at a single level in the prosodic hierarchy, must be accounted for with respect to the larger prosodic structure. A second experiment shows that the interpretation of focus is dependent on both the pattern of pitch accents in the utterance and the pattern of prosodic phrasing, establishing that different kinds of prosodic elements in the prosodic structure are used jointly in processing decisions. Two additional experiments, one on the interpretation of context-sensitive adjectives and a second on the resolution of within-category lexical ambiguity, demonstrate that phonologically distinct levels of prosodic phrasing have separable effects on language processing.

Taken together, the four experiments suggest that prosody has a much broader role in sentence comprehension than previously recognized, and that models of sentence processing should be modified to incorporate prosodic structure.

Indexing (details)

Cognitive therapy
0290: Linguistics
0623: Psychology
0623: Experiments
0633: Cognitive therapy
Identifier / keyword
Psychology; Language, literature and linguistics; natural language
Prosodic parsing: The role of prosody in sentence comprehension
Schafer, Amy Jean
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 58/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780591598131, 0591598132
Frazier, Lyn
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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