On Repairing Sentences: An Experimental and Computational Analysis of Recovery from Unexpected Syntactic Disambiguation in Sentence Parsing

Authors: Green, M.J.

Editors: Mitchell, D.C. and Monsell, S.M.

Conference: University of Exeter, Psychology


This thesis contends that the human parser has a repair mechanism. It is further contended that the human parser uses this mechanism to alter previously built structure in the case of unexpected disambiguation of temporary syntactic ambiguity. This position stands in opposition to the claim that unexpected disambiguation of temporary syntactic ambiguity is accomplished by the usual first pass parsing routines, a claim that arises from the relatively extraordinary capabilities of computational parsers, capabilities which have recently been extended by hypothesis to be available to the human sentence processing mechanism. The thesis argues that, while these capabilities have been demonstrated in computational parsers, the human parser is best explained in the terms of a repair based framework, and that this argument is demonstrated by examining eye movement behaviour in reading. In support of the thesis, evidence is provided from a set of eye tracking studies of reading. It is argued that these studies show that eye movement behaviours at disambiguation include purposeful visual search for linguistically relevant material, and that the form and structure of these searches vary reliably according to the nature of the repairs that the sentences necessitate.


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