Prosodic focus marking in silent reading: Effects of discourse context and rhythm

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© 2016 Kentner and Vasishth. Understanding a sentence and integrating it into the discourse depends upon the identification of its focus, which, in spoken German, is marked by accentuation. In the case of written language, which lacks explicit cues to accent, readers have to draw on other kinds of information to determine the focus. We study the joint or interactive effects of two kinds of information that have no direct representation in print but have each been shown to be influential in the reader's text comprehension: (i) the (low-level) rhythmic-prosodic structure that is based on the distribution of lexically stressed syllables, and (ii) the (high-level) discourse context that is grounded in the memory of previous linguistic content. Systematically manipulating these factors, we examine the way readers resolve a syntactic ambiguity involving the scopally ambiguous focus operator auch (engl. "too") in both oral (Experiment 1) and silent reading (Experiment 2). The results of both experiments attest that discourse context and local linguistic rhythm conspire to guide the syntactic and, concomitantly, the focus-structural analysis of ambiguous sentences. We argue that reading comprehension requires the (implicit) assignment of accents according to the focus structure and that, by establishing a prominence profile, the implicit prosodic rhythm directly affects accent assignment.




Kentner, G., & Vasishth, S. (2016). Prosodic focus marking in silent reading: Effects of discourse context and rhythm. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(MAR).

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