Ambiguity in Psycholinguistics by Joseph F. Kess

By Joseph F. Kess

The authors current a entire evaluation of earlier learn in ambiguity within the box of psycholinguistics. Experimental effects have usually been equivocal in permitting a call among the single-reading speculation and the multiple-reading speculation of processing of ambiguous sentences. this article experiences the arguments and experimental ends up in aid of every of those perspectives, and additional investigates the contributions of context and thematic constraints within the technique of ambiguity answer. statement is additionally made at the attainable hierarchical ordering of hassle within the remedy of ambiguity, in addition to seriously similar concerns like bias, person adjustments, normal cognitive options for facing multiphase representations, and the inherent adjustments among lexical and syntactic ambiguity.

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Although some smaller incidental findings were reported (for example, ambiguity in subjects, verbs, and objects was easier to detect than in adjectives and adverbs), position within the sentence was important, with higher perception times the nearer the end of the sentence that the ambiguity appeared in. Bias for one interpretation interacted with detection time, depending upon the ambiguity type, and surface structure complexity influenced detection as well. The thrust of the experimental results underscored the fact that the logical order postulated by linguists for syntactic descrip­ tion was not the same as the psychological order for processing of sen­ tences.

The task moves from detection into the examination of processing when the ambiguous status of the sentences is unknown to reader/hearers. Much later research will decry the use of detection as an informative experimental task, suggesting that its artificiality does not provide insight into realistic language processing situations. Three theoretical possibilities were outlined by MacKay: the sup­ pression hypothesis, the fusion hypothesis and the oblivion hypothesis. The first suggests that one and only reading is seen at a time, to the exclusion of the other, in much the same way that ambiguous figures al­ low only one visual interpretation at a time.

Van Lancker and Canter (1979) report only slightly better than chance success for subjects attempting to discriminate between ambiguous sentences for which one reading was an idiomatic version of the sentence. Although the key sentences were excised from contextually appropriate paragraphs and then played to subjects aware of the purposes of the ex­ periment, their discriminatory abilities in deciding whether a sentence was in its literal or its idiomatic reading in the given instance hover­ ed around the 50 % or chance accuracy level.

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