Younger and older adults' "good-enough" interpretations of garden-path sentences

Kiel Christianson, Carrick C. Williams, Rose T. Zacks, Fernanda Ferreira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We report 3 experiments that examined younger and older adults' reliance on "good-enough" interpretations for garden-path sentences (e.g., "While Anna dressed the baby played in the crib") as indicated by their responding "Yes" to questions probing the initial, syntactically unlicensed interpretation (e.g., "Did Anna dress the baby?"). The manipulation of several factors expected to influence the probability of generating or maintaining the unlicensed interpretation resulted in 2 major age differences: Older adults were generally more likely to endorse the incorrect interpretation for sentences containing optionally transitive verbs (e.g., hunted, paid), and they showed decreased availability of the correct interpretation of subordinate clauses containing reflexive absolute transitive verbs (e.g., dress, bathe). These age differences may in part be linked to older adults' increased reliance on heuristic-like good-enough processing to compensate for age-related deficits in working memory capacity. The results support previous studies suggesting that syntactic reanalysis may not be an all-or-nothing process and might not be completed unless questions probing unresolved aspects of the sentence structure challenge the resultant interpretation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-238
Number of pages34
JournalDiscourse Processes
Volume42
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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