Comprehension of linguistic dependencies: Speed-accuracy tradeoff evidence for direct-access retrieval from memory

Stephani Foraker, Brian McElree

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

Comprehenders can rapidly and efficiently interpret expressions with various types of non-adjacent dependencies. In the sentence The boy that the teacher warned fell, boy is readily interpreted as the subject of the verb fall despite the fact that a relative clause, that the teacher warned, intervenes between the two dependent elements. We review research investigating three memory operations proposed for resolving this and other types of non-adjacent dependencies: serial search retrieval, in which the dependent constituent is recovered by a search process through representations in memory, direct-access retrieval in which the dependent constituent is recovered directly by retrieval cue operations without search, and active maintenance of the dependent constituent in focal attention. Studies using speed-accuracy tradeoff methodology to examine the full timecourse of interpreting a wide range of non-adjacent dependencies indicate that comprehenders retrieve dependent constituents with a direct-access operation, consistent with the claim that representations formed during comprehension are accessed with a cue-driven, content-addressable retrieval process. The observed timecourse profiles are inconsistent with a broad class of models based on several search operations for retrieval. The profiles are also inconsistent with active maintenance of a constituent while concurrently processing subsequent material, and suggest that, with few exceptions, direct-access retrieval is required to process non-adjacent dependencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)764-783
Number of pages20
JournalLinguistics and Language Compass
Volume5
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language

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