Seminar Series

Predictive processing in incremental parsing: Evidence from cross-linguistic

This talk is concerned with \'prediction\' processes in human sentence processing. By \'prediction\', we mean that preceding linguistic items anticipate or narrow down a class of potential subsequent items even before the onset of the subsequent items during parsing. Such operations are not particularly new in the psycholinguistic or computational literature: numerous theories have accommodated a mechanism which enables the parser to expect the next items, often using syntactic knowledge based on phrase structure grammar. In this talk, we report four eye-tracking experiments with a \'visual world\' paradigm in which subjects looked at a picture on a computer screen, as well as listened to a concurrent auditory sentence related to the picture. The technique enables us to \'timelock\' eye movements relative to certain points of the sentence. Using this methodology, we can regard \'anticipatory\' eye movements (saccadic eye movements towards the object before the referring expression is encountered in the concurrent sentence: for example, looking at a picture of a cake immediately after hearing \'The boy will eat.\') as evidence for prediction of some properties of the forthcoming item. In our experiments, we investigate different types of constraints that could drive anticipatory eye movements: selectional restrictions of verbs (Expt 1), combination of subject constraints and verbs \' selectional restrictions (Expt 2), combination of syntactic and semantic constraints (in German, Expt 3) and syntactic and semantic constraints prior to the head verb (in Japanese, Expt 4). Our experiments revealed that the human sentence processor is capable of integrating as much information as possible in order to predict what will come next at a given time of moment during sentence processing. We discuss the data from a cross-linguistic point of view. (All the work has been carried out in collaboration with Gerry Altmann, York, and the German study with Christoph Scheepers, Dundee, while I was at York)