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Journal Article

The activation of contextually predictable words in syntactically illegal positions


Martin,  Andrea E.
Language and Computation in Neural Systems, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;

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Cutter, M. G., Martin, A. E., & Sturt, P. (2020). The activation of contextually predictable words in syntactically illegal positions. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 73(9), 1423-1430. doi:10.1177/1747021820911021.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-F3A2-0
We present an eye-tracking study testing a hypothesis emerging from several theories of prediction during language processing, whereby predictable words should be skipped more than unpredictable words even in syntactically illegal positions. Participants read sentences in which a target word became predictable by a certain point (e.g., “bone” is 92% predictable given, “The dog buried his. . .”), with the next word actually being an intensifier (e.g., “really”), which a noun cannot follow. The target noun remained predictable to appear later in the sentence. We used the boundary paradigm to present the predictable noun or an alternative unpredictable noun (e.g., “food”) directly after the intensifier, until participants moved beyond the intensifier, at which point the noun changed to a syntactically legal word. Participants also read sentences in which predictable or unpredictable nouns appeared in syntactically legal positions. A Bayesian linear-mixed model suggested a 5.7% predictability effect on skipping of nouns in syntactically legal positions, and a 3.1% predictability effect on skipping of nouns in illegal positions. We discuss our findings in relation to theories of lexical prediction during reading.