Sentence Complexity and Working Memory Effects in Ambiguity Resolution

Ji Hyon Kim, Kiel Christianson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two self-paced reading experiments using a paraphrase decision task paradigm were performed to investigate how sentence complexity contributed to the relative clause (RC) attachment preferences of speakers of different working memory capacities (WMCs). Experiment 1 (English) showed working memory effects on relative clause processing in both offline RC attachment preferences and in online reading time measures, but no effects of syntactic complexity. In Experiment 2 (Korean), syntactic complexity due to greater distance between integrating heads, as measured by the dependency locality theory (Gibson in Cognition 68:1-76, 1998), significantly increased the proportion of attachment to NP1. However, no effects of working memory were found. The difference in results between English and Korean is proposed to be due to head-directionality effects. The results of our study support the conclusion that working memory-based accounts provide a better explanation than previous language-dependent accounts for differences in RC attachment preferences. We propose that previous language dependent-accounts of cross-linguistic differences in RC processing have overlooked the interaction between individual WMC and a language's general structure, which is a central factor in RC attachment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-411
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • Ambiguity resolution
  • Paraphrase decision task
  • Relative clause processing
  • Sentence complexity
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • General Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics


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