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Language (Mis)Comprehension: Mistakes in Processing caused by Garden-Paths and Disfluencies

Fernanda Ferreira

Tuesday, December 07, 2004, 01:00pm - 02:00pm

Michigan State University, Department of Psychology

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´┐ŻUnderstanding language seems easy, and much of the time it is, but in recent work we have discovered that the processing system sometimes makes systematic errors which can lead to lingering misinterpretations. Garden-path sentences mislead comprehenders because they cause the parser to pursue a wrong syntactic analysis which must be revised when a grammatical error signal is encountered. And even when the syntactic structure is fixed, evidence suggests that the incorrect meaning associated with the initial misparse can persist and become part of the semantic representation for the sentence. Disfluencies have received less attention from psycholinguists, but experiments done in our laboratory have shown that their presence in an utterance creates challenges for the parser not unlike those it confronts when it processes a garden-path sentence. These results can be captured in terms of operations within Tree-Adjoining Grammar, including Substitution and Adjoining, but we also argue for an new operation termed "Overlay" to handle cases where both lexical material and syntactic structure must be revised.

Fernanda Ferreira