LINGUIST List 15.3489

Tue Dec 14 2004

Diss: Semantics/Syntax: Anderson: 'The Structure...'

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        1.    Catherine Anderson, The Structure and Real-Time Comprehension of Quantifier Scope Ambiguity

Message 1: The Structure and Real-Time Comprehension of Quantifier Scope Ambiguity

Date: 13-Dec-2004
From: Catherine Anderson <>
Subject: The Structure and Real-Time Comprehension of Quantifier Scope Ambiguity

Institution: Northwestern University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2004

Author: Catherine Anderson

Dissertation Title: The Structure and Real-Time Comprehension of Quantifier Scope Ambiguity

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics

Dissertation Director:
Chris Kennedy
Michael Walsh Dickey
Lance Rips

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation argues that the real-time comprehension of sentences with
quantifier scope ambiguities is governed by the properties of the human
sentence processing mechanism, which is driven by structural principles.
Chapter 1 presents an overview of existing theories of quantifier
representation and models of sentence comprehension. The chapter concludes
by proposing a principle of Processing Scope Economy. According to the
principle, quantifier scope ambiguity is a syntactic phenomenon and
computing quantifier scope relations in real time involves computing
syntactic representations. Because inverse-scope representations are more
complex than surface-scope representations, computing inverse scope incurs
a processing cost.

Chapter 2 provides evidence from three questionnaires and five self-paced
reading experiments that inverse-scope interpretations are dispreferred by
the processor and that assigning inverse scope consumes more processing
resources than assigning surface scope does. This processing cost is
incurred not only when a doubly quantified sentence is presented in
isolation, but also when it is presented in a context that supports the
inverse-scope interpretation, and even when the sentence is unambiguously
inverse scope. These results indicate that abstract linguistic structure
plays a central role in the comprehension of scope-ambiguous sentences and
support the principle of Processing Scope Economy.

Chapter 3 examines Fox's (2000) grammatical principle of Scope Economy,
which proposes that a syntactic scope-shifting operation like Quantifier
Raising is prohibited if it is semantically vacuous. The results of two
questionnaires and three self-paced reading experiments suggest, however,
that inverse-scope configurations are indeed permitted in sentences that
are scopally commutative. Rather than a principle of Grammatical Scope
Economy, whereby the well-formedness of a syntactic representation is
governed by its semantics, the results offer support for the principle of
Processing Scope Economy, which proposes that inverse-scope configurations
are fully grammatical but dispreferred.

Taken together, the data presented in Chapters 2 and 3 offer a coherent
picture of a model of on-line sentence comprehension that is crucially
informed by syntactic structure. The properties of this model then allow
us to locate the effects of Scope Economy in the processor rather than in
the grammar.

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