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Ben Munson: “Perceived gender and fricative identification”
November 2, 2012 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm |
Two theoretical problems have stood at the core of psycholinguistic research in syntactic comprehension: (1) the resolution of local ambiguity; and (2) syntactic complexity, or the difficulty incurred in processing locally unambiguous structures. This talk describes a unified treatment of these two problems through the theory of surprisal, which proposes that comprehenders rationally deploy probabilistic knowledge to yield variability in word-by-word processing difficulty that reflects a wide range of evidential information sources. I present computational modeling and experimental studies showing how surprisal effects account for a range of both garden-path ambiguity resolution and syntactic complexity effects, and give empirical evidence for the specific quantitative relationship between subjective probability and processing difficulty — as measured by word-by-word reading times — proposed by surprisal theory. For problems of syntactic complexity I compare the predictions of surprisal theory to those of theories positing a primary role of distance-sensitive locality due to memory constraints, and present new empirical data from studies on German and Russian syntactic processing that provide evidence of both surprisal and locality effects. I close with speculation on possible ways forward toward a unified theory of probabilistic knowledge and memory constraints in incremental sentence comprehension.
Ben Munson is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences at the University of Minnesota.