Lingering misinterpretations of garden path sentences arise from competing syntactic representations

Timothy J. Slattery, Patrick Sturt, Kiel Christianson, Masaya Yoshida, Fernanda Ferreira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent work has suggested that readers' initial and incorrect interpretation of temporarily ambiguous ("garden path") sentences (e.g., Christianson, Hollingworth, Halliwell, & Ferreira, 2001) sometimes lingers even after attempts at reanalysis. These lingering effects have been attributed to incomplete reanalysis. In two eye tracking experiments, we distinguish between two types of incompleteness: the language comprehension system might not build a faithful syntactic structure, or it might not fully erase the structure built during an initial misparse. The first experiment used reflexive binding and the gender mismatch paradigm to show that a complete and faithful structure is built following processing of the garden-path. The second experiment used two-sentence texts to examine the extent to which the garden-path meaning from the first sentence interferes with reading of the second. Together, the results indicate that misinterpretation effects are attributable not to failure in building a proper structure, but rather to failure in cleaning up all remnants of earlier attempts to build that syntactic representation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)104-120
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Eye movement
  • Good enough sentence processing
  • Parsing
  • Reading
  • Reanalysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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