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Thematic role predictability and planning affect word duration

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      It is known that acoustic variation is influenced by the predictability of words and the information that they represent. What is unknown is whether acoustic reduction is also influenced by the referential predictability of thematic roles. We tested this question in two production experiments, where speakers heard a sentence with goal/source arguments, e.g., “Lady Mannerly [source] gave a painting to Sir Barnes [goal],” and described a picture of a subsequent action, e.g., “Sir Barnes threw it in the closet.” We analyzed the duration of full NP descriptions used to refer to the pictured character. We found that duration was shorter for references to the goal than the source, but only in Experiment 2, where the timing of the stimuli encouraged the participant to plan their response incrementally, and not Experiment 1, where participants could pre-plan their responses. The strongest finding across both experiments was that response latency predicted duration, and latency was influenced by the predictability of thematic roles: Goal continuations had significantly shorter latencies. Together, these findings suggest that thematic role predictability does affect acoustic duration, and may be related to the time needed for utterance planning.

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          Incremental interpretation at verbs: restricting the domain of subsequent reference.

          Participants' eye movements were recorded as they inspected a semi-realistic visual scene showing a boy, a cake, and various distractor objects. Whilst viewing this scene, they heard sentences such as 'the boy will move the cake' or 'the boy will eat the cake'. The cake was the only edible object portrayed in the scene. In each of two experiments, the onset of saccadic eye movements to the target object (the cake) was significantly later in the move condition than in the eat condition; saccades to the target were launched after the onset of the spoken word cake in the move condition, but before its onset in the eat condition. The results suggest that information at the verb can be used to restrict the domain within the context to which subsequent reference will be made by the (as yet unencountered) post-verbal grammatical object. The data support a hypothesis in which sentence processing is driven by the predictive relationships between verbs, their syntactic arguments, and the real-world contexts in which they occur.

            Author and article information

            Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, US
            Laboratory Phonology: Journal of the Association for Laboratory Phonology
            Ubiquity Press
            17 July 2017
            : 8
            : 1
            Copyright: © 2017 The Author(s)

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See

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