Processing noncanonical sentences: effects of context on online processing and (mis)interpretation
Michael Meng | Markus Bader
Prior research has shown that sentences with noncanonical argument order (e.g., patient-before- agent instead of agent-before-patient order) are associated with additional online processing difficulty, but that this difficulty can be alleviated if the discourse context licenses noncanonical order. Other studies demonstrated that noncanonical sentences are prone to misinterpretation effects: comprehenders sometimes seem to form interpretations with incorrect assignments of semantic roles to argument NPs. However, those studies tested noncanonical sentences in isolation. To further clarify the source of misinterpretation effects, we designed three experiments that investigated how discourse properties licensing noncanonical order affect online processing and final interpretation. All experiments tested unambiguous active declarative sentences in German with agentive verbs and two arguments, probing both online processing difficulty (using selfpaced reading) and accuracy of interpretation (using wh-comprehension questions). Besides word order (subject-before-object, SO vs. object-before-subject, OS), we varied the context preceding the target sentence (neutral context vs. context licensing OS, Experiment 1), the type of NP serving as object (definite vs. demonstrative NP, Experiment 2) and the type of question probing comprehension (two-argument vs. one-argument wh-questions, Experiment 3). Consistent with earlier findings, we observed that discourse properties licensing OS order facilitated online processing in early sentence regions. ...