Syntactic Structure and the Garden Path

V. M. Holmes, A. Kennedy, W. S. Murray

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34 Citations (Scopus)


The experiment investigated locally ambiguous English sentences containing “complement” verbs such as believe, which can be followed either by a direct object or by a complement clause. These two sentence types were compared with unambiguous sentences in which the complement clause was introduced by the word that. Subjects processed numerous examples of these sentences in a word-by-word self-paced reading task. At the disambiguation point after the ambiguous noun phrase, longer reading times were obtained for reduced complement constructions compared with direct object sentences. Such an effect has been attributed to the operation of the parsing principle Minimal Attachment (Frazier and Rayner, 1982). This principle predicts that subjects assume falsely that the noun phrase after the complement verb in the reduced complement constructions is the direct object, resulting in the need for subsequent structural reanalysis. However, longer times in the disambiguating zone were also found for the unambiguous that complements. Thus, the complexity difference seems not to represent “garden-pathing” as a result of the operation of Minimal Attachment, but may instead reflect the extra complexity caused by having to handle two sets of clausal relations instead of just one.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-293
Number of pages17
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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