The role of syntax in sentence and referential processing

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How language comprehenders process the syntactic structure of sentences and, to a somewhat lesser extent, how sentence structure affects referential processing have been important questions in language comprehension research. Results from studies using the visual-world eye-tracking method have yielded important insights regarding these issues. In these studies, participants listen to sentences with varying structure (often involving ambiguity) while an eye tracker monitors their eye fixations to objects or pictures of words in the sentence. Because listeners rapidly fixate the objects/pictures in the sentence (Cooper, 1974; Allopenna, Magnuson, & Tanenhaus, 1998) and even fixate objects/pictures that are likely to be mentioned next (Altmann & Kamide, 1999), fixations to the objects/pictures can be used to inform us about how language comprehenders process sentence structure and how it affects referential processing. This chapter reviews visual-world studies that have done this.


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