You will never believe what happened at the party yesterday! Ellen kissed
Ruben and Peter…. Suppose this is the last thing you read in your friend’s
e-mail before your computer breaks down. If you have some prior knowledge
regarding the situation described, you would be able to guess how the
interrupted sentence could continue without great difficulty. For example,
if you know that Ellen was secretly in love with both Peter and Ruben and
you know she has a certain reputation, she may have kissed them both, but
if you know she has a crush on Ruben, but definitely not on Peter, the
remaining part of the sentence would more likely be something like (Ellen
kissed Ruben and Peter) smiled his approval from a distance.
The main question of the research presented in this dissertation is whether
readers’ knowledge of a situation immediately affects the structural
analysis (i.e. parse) of a sentence. This knowledge is called situational
knowledge and is provided by means of discourse context. Syntactic
ambiguity, specifically, the NP-/S-coordination ambiguity is used as a
Results of a series of off-line experiments, self-paced reading experiments and
an eye movement experiment are discussed. The results support the idea that
the parsing process is immediately affected by situational knowledge, a
non-syntactic factor that is often even considered non-linguistic.
Consequently, parsing is argued to be a highly interactive, dynamic process
that changes in response to the strength of various sources of information.
This dissertation should be of interest to those interested in sentence
processing and its interfaces with discourse representation.