The Influence of Prosodic Boundaries in Syntactic Interpretation
Harrington Stack, Caoimhe M.
Prosodic boundaries can influence how listeners choose to interpret the syntactic structure of utterances. This is especially clear in ambiguous phrases which have two potential underlying syntactic structures. While this prosodic effect is robust, it is not fully understood why listeners have a bias to use the location of a prosodic boundary to infer underlying syntax. Two models of language processing, the Visibility Hypothesis and the Ideal Adapter Framework, and their predictions regarding the boundary-syntax relationship are investigated in six experiments. The Visibility Hypothesis argues that prosodic boundary effects are the result of natural processing constraints, while the Ideal Adapter Framework argues for malleable language comprehension which is based on the distribution of linguistic cues in an environment. The effect of boundaries on syntactic interpretation is replicated but there is a failure to find evidence that fully supports either theory fully. Potential explanations for the failure to find support for either theory is discussed.