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Journal Article

In defense of competition during syntactic ambiguity resolution


Kempen,  Gerard
Other Research, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Vosse, T., & Kempen, G. (2009). In defense of competition during syntactic ambiguity resolution. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 38(1), 1-9. doi:10.1007/s10936-008-9075-1.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-22B6-3
In a recent series of publications (Traxler et al. J Mem Lang 39:558–592, 1998; Van Gompel et al. J Mem Lang 52:284–307, 2005; see also Van Gompel et al. (In: Kennedy, et al.(eds) Reading as a perceptual process, Oxford, Elsevier pp 621–648, 2000); Van Gompel et al. J Mem Lang 45:225–258, 2001) eye tracking data are reported showing that globally ambiguous (GA) sentences are read faster than locally ambiguous (LA) counterparts. They argue that these data rule out “constraint-based” models where syntactic and conceptual processors operate concurrently and syntactic ambiguity resolution is accomplished by competition. Such models predict the opposite pattern of reading times. However, this argument against competition is valid only in conjunction with two standard assumptions in current constraint-based models of sentence comprehension: (1) that syntactic competitions (e.g., Which is the best attachment site of the incoming constituent?) are pooled together with conceptual competitions (e.g., Which attachment site entails the most plausible meaning?), and (2) that the duration of a competition is a function of the overall (pooled) quality score obtained by each competitor. We argue that it is not necessary to abandon competition as a successful basis for explaining parsing phenomena and that the above-mentioned reading time data can be accounted for by a parallel-interactive model with conceptual and syntactic processors that do not pool their quality scores together. Within the individual linguistic modules, decision-making can very well be competition-based.