Incremental interpretation and the role of disfluencies in human language comprehension
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Following a substantial amount of research, language comprehension is now generally regarded as an incremental process in which both linguistic and non-linguistic input is integrated and interpreted as early as possible within the time course. However, disfluencies, such as filled pauses like ‘er’ and ‘um’, are not as well regarded by the literature in terms of incremental processing. Nonetheless, a model of disfluency processing within such a system has been proposed by Ferreira and Bailey (2004) who utilise a formalism called Tree Adjoining Grammars to explain the reanalysis of disfluencies in a process termed ‘overlay’. The experiment reported below addresses this through the adoption of a methodology used by Altmann and Kamide (1999), whereby participants examined visual scenes while hearing corresponding sentences, in the attempt to, firstly replicate their findings concerning restriction selectional at the verb can be used to predict thematic role assignment, in addition to investigating the role of disfluencies in comprehension in terms of an overlay account. Results from participant’s eye movements supported Altmann And Kamide’s (1999) findings that the information extracted at the verb was used to predict upcoming referents. An overlay account of disfluency processing was not conclusively supported by the data. However, the results still suggest that disfluencies can affect the comprehension of language in a system based on fine-grained incremental interpretation.