The Role of Presupposed and Focal Information in Integrating Sentences
ARMY RESEARCH INST FOR THE BEHAVIORAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCES ALEXANDRIA VA
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Two experiments explored the linguistic processes that underlie integration of the meaning of one sentence with the meaning of another. The authors propose that the linguistic markings of both a referring anaphor and the antecedent to which it refers are important for comprehension. The integrating process involves identifying a primary antecedent from a context sentence and relating an appropriately marked anaphor from the target sentence back to the antecedent. The primary antecedent is ideally marked as focal new information in the context sentence, whereas the anaphor is linguistically presupposed old information in the target sentence. Two comprehensive-time experiments tested this idea. Subjects read sentence pairs in which the linguistic markings of a repeated noun phrase varied across the sentences. Context sentences incorporated the noun phrase as either presupposed P or focal F, and the target repetition appeared as either presupposed P or focal F. Comprehension time was fastest for FP combinations, intermediate for FF and PP pairs, and slowest for PF combinations. These results obtained when the proximity of the repeated phrase was controlled Experiment I and also when target sentences were in both active and passive voices Experiment II. This report is intended for psychologists interested in linguistics.
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