Focus in Sentence Comprehension: The notion of “focus” plays a prominent role in many areas of linguistic theory. In sentence processing, focused constituents seem to enjoy improved encoding and representation for subsequent recall (Birch & Garnsey 1995). However, the mechanisms which give rise to this benefit are still poorly understood. Studies of reading comprehension have variably found that focused constituents are read more quickly (Birch & Rayner 2010), more slowly (Birch & Rayner 1997), or no differently from non-focused constituents (Sturt et al. 2004). In this collaboration with Dr. Amanda Rysling (UCSC), we attempt to bring some clarity to these disparate findings by using a novel adaptation of the display-change paradigm to test the hypothesis that the focus benefit derives from comprehenders predictively allocating attention to likely focused constituents.
Active Morphosyntactic Prediction: Several studies in sentence processing suggest that comprehenders maintain expectations about likely continuations of partial inputs (Hale 2001, DeLong et al. 2005, Levy 2008, i.m.a.): material which is predictable in context seems to be processed more easily. However, researchers disagree on whether these effects should be attributed to eased integration of material in supportive contexts, or active prediction of that material in advance of bottom-up input. Collaborating with Drs. Masaya Yoshida (NU) and Dave Kush (NTNU), I am attempting to address this tension by showing that fronted reflexive pronouns lead comprehenders to predict (1) the morphological form of the matrix subject; (2) subsequent agreement morphology on the intervening auxiliary. This finding provides strong evidence of active morphosyntactic prediction which cannot be reduced to eased integration cost.