How Children Avoid Kindergarten Paths

Many experimental investigations of human sentence processing have shown that listeners do not wait until they reach the end of a sentence before they begin to compute an interpretation. Rather, listeners incrementally make commitments to an interpretation as the linguistic input unfolds in real time. A consequence of this property of sentence comprehension is that it sometimes gives rise to so-called garden-path effects. In the presence of a temporary ambiguity, listeners may assign an interpretation that later turns out to be unviable and must, therefore, be abandoned in favor of an alternative interpretation. Various explanations have been proposed to account for garden- path effects that have been documented in certain experimental contexts (Frazier and Rayner, 1982; Trueswell and Tanenhaus, 1994; MacDonald, 1994, among others). One line of research has claimed, however, that the referential contexts in which sentences ordinarily appear often mitigate, or even completely eliminate, garden-path effects. This is the Referential Theory proposed by Crain and Steedman (1985) and extended by Altmann and Steedman (1988). According to the Referential Theory, people experience garden-path effects primarily when sentences are interpreted outside any referential context or in infelicitous contexts. If the Referential Theory is correct, garden-path effects are largely experimental artifacts. Recent work by Trueswell, Sekerina, Hill and Logrip, (1999) suggests that children might not be sensitive to features of the referential context to the same..
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