Memory Operations That Support Language Comprehension: Evidence From Verb-Phrase Ellipsis

Andrea E. Martin, Brian McElree

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Comprehension of verb-phrase ellipsis (VPE) requires reevaluation of recently processed constituents, which often necessitates retrieval of information about the elided constituent from memory. A. E. Martin and B. McElree (2008) argued that representations formed during comprehension are content addressable and that VPE antecedents are retrieved from memory via a cue-dependent direct-access pointer rather than via a search process. This hypothesis was further tested by manipulating the location of interfering material-either before the onset of the antecedent (proactive interference; PI) or intervening between antecedent and ellipsis site (retroactive interference; RI). The speed-accuracy tradeoff procedure was used to measure the time course of VPE processing. The location of the interfering material affected VPE comprehension accuracy: RI conditions engendered lower accuracy than PI conditions. Crucially, location did not affect the speed of processing VPE, which is inconsistent with both forward and backward search mechanisms. The observed time-course profiles are consistent with the hypothesis that VPE antecedents are retrieved via a cue-dependent direct-access operation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1231-1239
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • proactive interference
  • retrieval interference
  • sentence processing
  • speed-accuracy tradeoff
  • verb-phrase ellipsis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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