Lingering effects of disfluent material on the comprehension of garden path sentences

Ellen Lau, Fernanda Ferreira

In two experiments, we tested for lingering effects of verb replacement disfluencies on the processing of garden path sentences that exhibit the main verb/reduced relative (MV/RR) ambiguity. Participants heard sentences with revisions like The little girl chosen, uh, selected for the role celebrated with her parents and friends. We found that the syntactic ambiguity associated with the reparandum verb involved in the disfluency (here chosen) had an influence on later parsing: Garden path sentences that included such revisions were more likely to be judged grammatical if the reparandum verb was structurally unambiguous. Conversely, ambiguous non-garden path sentences were more likely to be judged ungrammatical if the structurally unambiguous disfluency verb was inconsistent with the final reading. Results support a model of disfluency processing in which the syntactic frame associated with the replacement verb ‘‘overlays’’ the previous verb’s structure rather than actively deleting the already-built tree.