The representation of agreement features in memory is updated during sentence processing: Evidence from verb-reflexive interactions

Maayan Keshev*, Aya Meltzer-Asscher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The formation of linguistic dependencies is subject to memory interference. In this study, we ask whether memory representations are fixed, or whether they can be distorted and updated after their initial encoding. Models of Cue-Based Retrieval assume that memory representations are fixed. However, representational interference and rational inference models assume that memory contents can be edited. To examine this, we test how reflexive attraction is affected by preceding verbal agreement in Hebrew. Cue-Based Retrieval suggests that agreement on the verb can exaggerate the reflexive's sensitivity to the distractor. In contrast, we propose that if memory representations can be edited, verbal agreement can alter the representation of the subject. This process would reduce vulnerability to distortions originating from the distractor. In two self-paced reading experiments and one forced-choice completion we find (i) decreased reflexive attraction when (grammatical or ungrammatical) agreement cues were available on the preceding verb; and (ii) a preference for reflexive forms matching the verb over forms matching the subject when the sentence included ungrammatical verbal agreement. These results suggest that comprehenders use featural information from the verb to recover properties of the subject. The findings are therefore consistent with a memory model where representations can be distorted and updated, as well as with rational inference about memory disruption.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104495
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Volume135
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2024

Funding

FundersFunder number
Ariane de Rothschild fellowship
Fulbright Association
Israel Science Foundation525/22

    Keywords

    • Agreement attraction
    • Cue based retrieval
    • Encoding interference
    • Rational inference
    • Reflexive pronouns
    • Sentence processing

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