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Plausibility and recovery from garden paths in second language sentence processing



In this study, the influence of plausibility information on the real-time processing of locally ambiguous (“garden path”) sentences in a nonnative language is investigated. Using self-paced reading, we examined how advanced Greek-speaking learners of English and native speaker controls read sentences containing temporary subject–object ambiguities, with the ambiguous noun phrase being either semantically plausible or implausible as the direct object of the immediately preceding verb. Besides providing evidence for incremental interpretation in second language processing, our results indicate that the learners were more strongly influenced by plausibility information than the native speaker controls in their on-line processing of the experimental items. For the second language learners an initially plausible direct object interpretation lead to increased reanalysis difficulty in “weak” garden-path sentences where the required reanalysis did not interrupt the current thematic processing domain. No such evidence of on-line recovery was observed, in contrast, for “strong” garden-path sentences that required more substantial revisions of the representation built thus far, suggesting that comprehension breakdown was more likely here.


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ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Leah Roberts, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, P.O. Box 310, Nijmegen 6500 AH, The Netherlands. E-mail:


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Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
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