Direct speech quotations promote low relative-clause attachment in silent reading of English


The implicit prosody hypothesis (Fodor, 1998, 2002) proposes that silent reading coincides with a default, implicit form of prosody to facilitate sentence processing. Recent research demonstrated that a more vivid form of implicit prosody is mentally simulated during silent reading of direct speech quotations (e.g., Mary said, “This dress is beautiful”), with neural and behavioural consequences (e.g., Yao, Belin, & Scheepers, 2011; Yao & Scheepers, 2011). Here, we explored the relation between ‘default’ and ‘simulated’ implicit prosody in the context of relative-clause (RC) attachment in English. Apart from confirming a general low RC-attachment preference in both production (Experiment 1) and comprehension (Experiments 2 and 3), we found that during written sentence completion (Experiment 1) or when reading silently (Experiment 2), the low RC-attachment preference was reliably enhanced when the critical sentences were embedded in direct speech quotations as compared to indirect speech or narrative sentences. However, when reading aloud (Experiment 3), direct speech did not enhance the general low RC-attachment preference. The results from Experiments 1 and 2 suggest a quantitative boost to implicit prosody (via auditory perceptual simulation) during silent production/comprehension of direct speech. By contrast, when reading aloud (Experiment 3), prosody becomes equally salient across conditions due to its explicit nature; indirect speech and narrative sentences thus become as susceptible to prosody-induced syntactic biases as direct speech. The present findings suggest a shared cognitive basis between default implicit prosody and simulated implicit prosody, providing a new platform for studying the effects of implicit prosody on sentence processing.

Cognition, 176, 248-254
Bo Yao
Bo Yao
Cognitive Neuroscientist

Cognitive Neuroscience of Language