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Academic Paper


Title: Syntactic ambiguity resolution and the prosodic foot: Cross-language differences
Author: Conrad Perry
Institution: Swinburne University of Technology
Author: Man-Kit Kan
Institution: University of Hong Kong
Author: Stephen Matthews
Homepage: http://www.hku.hk/linguist/staff/sjm.htm
Institution: University of Hong Kong
Author: Richard Kwok-Shing Wong
Institution: Hong Kong Institute of Education
Linguistic Field: Phonology; Psycholinguistics; Syntax
Subject Language: Chinese, Mandarin
Chinese, Yue
Abstract: In this study we examined syntactic ambiguity resolution in two different Chinese languages, Cantonese and Mandarin, which are relatively similar grammatically but very different phonologically. We did this using four-character sentences that could be read using two, two-syllable sequences (2-2) or a structure where the first syllable could be read by itself. The results showed that when both potential readings were semantically congruent, Mandarin speakers had a strong preference for the 2-2 structure and they preferred that structure much more than Cantonese speakers did. We attribute this to Mandarin having a more dominant bisyllabic prosodic foot than Cantonese. When the 2-2 meaning was semantically incongruent, however, the alternative structure was preferred by both Mandarin and Cantonese speakers. Overall, the results suggest that, in silent reading tasks and semantically neutral conditions, the prosodic foot is generated automatically and can affect syntactic choices when ambiguity arises.

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This article appears IN Applied Psycholinguistics Vol. 27, Issue 3, which you can READ on Cambridge's site .



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