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The Influence of Focus Operators on Syntactic Processing of Short Relative Clause Sentences

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Abstract:

Ni, Crain, and Shankweiler (1996) present evidence to suggest that the focus operator only can guide how reduced relative clause sentences are initially parsed. In this paper, we demonstrate that this does not hold for relative clause sentences that start with a noun-phrase, verb, noun-phrase construction. We report an eye movement study in which subjects read reduced and unreduced sentences of this type with and without the focus operator only. There were longer first-pass reading times in the critical region of reduced sentences than in the same region of unreduced sentences, regardless of the inclusion of only. Furthermore, readers spent less time re-inspecting portions of text after being garden pathed when reading reduced relative clause sentences that contained the focus operator than when reading reduced relative clause sentences that did not. We conclude that subjects initially syntactically misanalysed reduced relative clause sentences with and without only, and the inclusion of a focus operator facilitated recovery procedures rather than guiding initial parsing. These results are inconsistent with the referential theory and undermine the conclusions of Ni et al. (1996).

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/713755827

Publication date: August 1, 1999

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