Direct-access retrieval during sentence comprehension: Evidence from Sluicing

Andrea E. Martin, Brian McElree

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Language comprehension requires recovering meaning from linguistic form, even when the mapping between the two is indirect. A canonical example is ellipsis, the omission of information that is subsequently understood without being overtly pronounced. Comprehension of ellipsis requires retrieval of an antecedent from memory, without prior prediction, a property which enables the study of retrieval in situ (Martin & McElree, 2008, 2009). Sluicing, or inflectional-phrase ellipsis, in the presence of a conjunction, presents a test case where a competing antecedent position is syntactically licensed, in contrast with most cases of nonadjacent dependency, including verb-phrase ellipsis. We present speed-accuracy tradeoff and eye-movement data inconsistent with the hypothesis that retrieval is accomplished via a syntactically guided search, a particular variant of search not examined in past research. The observed timecourse profiles are consistent with the hypothesis that antecedents are retrieved via a cue-dependent direct-access mechanism susceptible to general memory variables.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-343
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Ellipsis
  • Recency
  • Retrieval interference
  • Sentence processing
  • Serial position
  • Sluicing
  • Speed-accuracy tradeoff

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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