Noisy is better than rare: Comprehenders compromise subject-verb agreement to form more probable linguistic structures

Maayan Keshev*, Aya Meltzer-Asscher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Production and perception errors are common in everyday language use. Recent studies suggest that in order to overcome the flawed speech signal, comprehenders engage in rational noisy-channel processing, which can pull their interpretation towards more probable “near-neighbor” analyses, based on the assumption that an error may have occurred in the transmission of the sentence. We investigate this type of processing using subject/object relative clause ambiguity in Hebrew. In four self-paced reading experiments and a sentence completion experiment, we find that during online processing, readers apply elaborate knowledge regarding the distribution of structures in the language, and that they are willing to compromise subject-verb agreement to refrain from (grammatical but) highly improbable structures. The results suggest that the prior probability of alternative analyses modulates the interpretation of agreement.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101359
JournalCognitive Psychology
Volume124
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Funding

FundersFunder number
German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and DevelopmentI-2496-104.4/2018
Israel Science Foundation216/18

    Keywords

    • Noisy-channel
    • Rational inference
    • Relative clause
    • Sentence processing
    • Subject-verb agreement

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