Discourse Processes

Published by Taylor & Francis

Online ISSN: 1532-6950


Print ISSN: 0163-853X


Accessibility in Text and Discourse Processing
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April 2004


346 Reads


Accessibility is one of the most important challenges at the intersection of linguistic and psycholinguistic studies of text and discourse processing. Linguists have shown how linguistic indicators of referential coherence show a systematic pattern: Longer linguistic forms (like full lexical NPs) tend to be used when referents are relatively low accessible, shorter forms (pronouns and zero anaphora) are used when referents are highly accessible. This linguistic theory fits in nicely with a dynamic view of text and discourse processing: When a reader proceeds through a text, the activation of concepts as part of the reader's representation fluctuates constantly. Hypotheses considering activation patterns can be tested with on-line research methods like reading time or eye-movement recording. The articles in this special issue show how accessibility phenomena need to be studied from a linguistic and a psycholinguistic angle, and in the latter case from interpretation as well as production.

FIGURE 1 Proportion of unlicensed " Yes " responses to comprehension questions for reflexive and optionally transitive verb sentences in Experiment 1a.  
FIGURE 2 Reading time for reflexive and optionally transitive verb sentences in Experiment 1a. Error bars are standard error of the mean for each condition.  
FIGURE 5 Proportion of correct responses to reflexive comprehension questions of reflexive verb sentences in Experiment 3. Error bars are standard error of the mean for each condition.  
TABLE 5 Correlations of Reading Span and Comprehension Question Proportion Yes in Experiment 2
FIGURE 3 Proportion of unlicensed " Yes " responses to comprehension questions for reflexive verb and optionally transitive verb sentences in Experiment 1b. Error bars are standard error of the mean for each condition.  
Younger and Older Adults' "Good-Enough" Interpretations of Garden-Path Sentences

February 2006


662 Reads

We report 3 experiments that examined younger and older adults' reliance on "good-enough" interpretations for garden-path sentences (e.g., "While Anna dressed the baby played in the crib") as indicated by their responding "Yes" to questions probing the initial, syntactically unlicensed interpretation (e.g., "Did Anna dress the baby?"). The manipulation of several factors expected to influence the probability of generating or maintaining the unlicensed interpretation resulted in 2 major age differences: Older adults were generally more likely to endorse the incorrect interpretation for sentences containing optionally transitive verbs (e.g., hunted, paid), and they showed decreased availability of the correct interpretation of subordinate clauses containing reflexive absolute transitive verbs (e.g., dress, bathe). These age differences may in part be linked to older adults' increased reliance on heuristic-like good-enough processing to compensate for age-related deficits in working memory capacity. The results support previous studies suggesting that syntactic reanalysis may not be an all-or-nothing process and might not be completed unless questions probing unresolved aspects of the sentence structure challenge the resultant interpretation.

Bodily-Visual Practices and Turn Continuation

May 2012


246 Reads

This paper considers points in turn construction where conversation researchers have shown that talk routinely continues beyond possible turn completion, but where we find bodily-visual behavior doing such turn extension work. The bodily-visual behaviors we examine share many features with verbal turn extensions, but we argue that embodied movements have distinct properties that make them well-suited for specific kinds of social action, including stance display and by-play in sequences framed as subsidiary to a simultaneous and related verbal exchange. Our study is in line with a research agenda taking seriously the point made by Goodwin (2000a, b, 2003), Hayashi (2003, 2005), Iwasaki (2009), and others that scholars seeking to account for practices in language and social interaction do themselves a disservice if they privilege the verbal dimension; rather, as suggested in Stivers/Sidnell (2005), each semiotic system/modality, while coordinated with others, has its own organization. With the current exploration of bodily-visual turn extensions, we hope to contribute to a growing understanding of how these different modes of organization are managed concurrently and in concert by interactants in carrying out their everyday social actions.

Modeling Reader and Text Interactions During Narrative Comprehension: A Test of the Lexical Quality Hypothesis

February 2013


216 Reads

The goal of this study was to examine predictions derived from the Lexical Quality Hypothesis (Perfetti & Hart, 2002; Perfetti, 2007) regarding relations among word-decoding, working-memory capacity, and the ability to integrate new concepts into a developing discourse representation. Hierarchical Linear Modeling was used to quantify the effects of two text properties (length and number of new concepts) on reading times of focal and spillover sentences, with variance in those effects estimated as a function of individual difference factors (decoding, vocabulary, print exposure, and working-memory capacity). The analysis revealed complex, cross-level interactions that complement the Lexical Quality Hypothesis.

Partition If You Must: Evidence for a No Extra Times Principle

November 2013


79 Reads

Plural phrases are open to many interpretations in English, where cumulative interpretations of noun and verb phrases are possible without any disambiguating morphology. A sentence like Every week, the high school kids went to the movies or the ballgame might involve quantifying over multiple occurrences of a single scenario, in which subsets of the kids do different things, or it might involve quantifying over distinct scenarios, in which all of the kids do one thing or all of them do the other. In the present work and related earlier work (Harris et al., 2013), we pursue the No Extra Times principle that favors interpretations where a phrase is construed as describing a single event taking place during a given time period. In two written interpretation studies, we found that participants more often interpret indeterminate sentences with disjunctive predicates by partitioning the set of individuals rather than partitioning the predicate to denote distinct scenarios or times. We conclude by offering some speculations about why partitioning the eventuality denoted by the verb phrase into multiple times is more costly than partitioning the entities denoted by its subject noun phrase into multiple sets.

The Influence of Topic Status on Written and Spoken Sentence Production

December 2011


87 Reads

Four experiments investigate the influence of topic status and givenness on how speakers and writers structure sentences. The results of these experiments show that when a referent is previously given, it is more likely to be produced early in both sentences and word lists, confirming prior work showing that givenness increases the accessibility of given referents. When a referent is previously given and assigned topic status, it is even more likely to be produced early in a sentence, but not in a word list. Thus, there appears to be an early mention advantage for topics that is present in both written and spoken modalities, but is specific to sentence production. These results suggest that information-structure constructs like topic exert an influence that is not based only on increased accessibility, but also reflects mapping to syntactic structure during sentence production.

On the psychological validity of story structure

October 1982


77 Reads

Three expriments tested the psychological validity of the constituent units and sequencing rules of the Mandler and Johnson story grammar. If people's knowledge about stories reflects such a grammar, then it should have noticeable effects on their processing. The first experiment tested the effects of constituents structure on comprehension and recall by measuring reading and recall times of sentences within and across constituent boundaries. First sentences of constituents were slower to read and recall than second sentences. Various tests and a second experiment showed that these effects were due to story structure rather than to lexical overlap or semantic relatedness per se. The third experience tested the sequencing rules of the grammar by systematically moving constituents away from their normal positions, while at the same time providing them with surface markers to indicate the intended sequence of events. In all cases movements slowed reading time both at the place where the expected constituent was missing and at the place where it acutally occurred. Movements also results in more recall errors. The data support the position that people have incorporated knowledge about the canonical structure of stories which they use slurring processing.

Information Accretion and Reduction in Text Processing: Inferences

January 1970


94 Reads

Asserts that the term "inference" has had a negative effect on the study of how information is elaborated and reduced in text processing (TP). The negative effect is said to arise from the suggestion that inference in TP is a unitary phenomenon and from the overemphasis on the conscious. The author discusses T. Guthke's (1991) view of inferencing in text comprehension. Guthke's view distinguishes between conscious, controlled inference processes, and automatic, unconscious inferences. Also, distinction is made between inferences that elaborate incoming information with existing knowledge and those that generate new information. The author suggests that information reduction processes be viewed in text comprehension within the same framework as information accretion. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

FIGURE 1 Means across individual gamma correlations between performance predictions and test performance across texts, presented as a function of group and the kind of test question. Each mean is presented with the corresponding median across individual gamma correlations (the numerical values within the graph), and error bars represent standard errors.
Why Does Rereading Improve Metacomprehension Accuracy? Evaluating the Levels-of-Disruption Hypothesis for the Rereading Effect

July 2005


752 Reads

Rereading can improve the accuracy of people's predictions of future test performance for text material. This research investigated this rereading effect by evaluating 2 predictions from the levels-of-disruption hypothesis: (a) The rereading effect will occur when the criterion test measures comprehension of the text, and (b) the rereading effect will not occur when a 1-week delay occurs between initial reading and rereading. Participants (N = 113) were assigned to 1 of 3 groups: single reading, immediate rereading, or rereading after a 1-week delay. Outcomes were consistent with the 2 predictions stated earlier. This article discusses the status of the levels-of-disruption hypothesis and alternative hypotheses based on the cognitive effort required to process texts. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

Achieving Coherence in Multilingual Interaction

January 1970


24 Reads

Examined successful and unsuccessful instances of communication between speakers who do not share a common language. Ss included 29 limited-English proficient children in nursery and elementary school, enrolled with native English-speaking peers in regular classrooms. The model used here to evaluate the process of multilingual communication involves 3 hierarchically interrelated levels: background knowledge, situational knowledge and skills, and linguistic knowledge. Ss employed a predominantly top-down strategy to achieve comprehension; whenever expectations at higher levels were shared, verbal forms were often correctly decoded, even within limited parameters of language proficiency. Thus, within certain well-defined recurrent situations, a shared linguistic code is neither necessary nor sufficient for successful communication. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

Use and acquisition of idiomatic expressions in referring by native and non-native speakers

January 1997


349 Reads

Examined how native and non-native speakers adjust their referring expressions to each other in conversation. 20 Asian language speakers learning English were tested before and after conversations with native English speakers in which they repeatedly matched picture of common objects (Exp 1). Lexical entrainment was just as common in native/non-native pairs as in native/native pairs. People alternated director/matcher roles in the matching task; natives uttered more words than non-natives in the same roles. In Exp 2, 31 natives rated the pre- and post-test expressions for naturalness; non-natives' post-test expressions were more natural than their pre-test expressions. In Exp 3, 20 natives rated expressions from the transcribed conversations. Native expressions took longer to rate and were judged less natural-sounding when they were addressed to non-natives than to other natives. These results are consistent with H. H. Clark and D. Wilkes-Gibbs's (see record 1987-07185-001) principle of Least Collaborative Effort. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

Speech Act Theory in Quantitative Research on Interpersonal Behavior

January 1970


172 Reads

Reviews the practical work of R. F. Bales (1951, 1970), J. Dore (1977), and W. Labov and D. Fanshel (1977) on the application of speech act theory to the development of coding schemes for research on natural conversation. The theoretical frameworks of J. L. Austin (1962), J. R. Searle (1969, 1975), and Z. Vendler (1972) are also discussed. A speech act classification scheme designed by the present authors to investigate correspondences between speech acts and adjectival dimensions descriptive of interpersonal behavior is then presented. Analyses of 17 excerpts from a documentary on the naturally occurring communication of a middle-class family using this classification scheme revealed 10 clusters or categories of speech acts that are likely to go together in short episodes of interaction. Findings indicate some strong relationships between kinds of speech acts uttered in a conversation and perceptions of the associated interactors. (20 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

Language Comprehension: Archival Memory or Preparation for Situated Action?

January 1999


967 Reads

Current paradigms study language comprehension as if archival memory were its primary function. Subjects only receive linguistic material and are later tested on memory for its contents. In contrast, the two target articles in this issue, Glenberg and Robertson (in press) and Roth (in press), examine comprehension as if preparing for situated action were its primary function. Besides receiving linguistic materials as input, subjects study objects, actions, and interactions between agents. Rather than simply being tested on memory for linguistic materials, subjects also produce actions and enter into group interactions. Although these researchers focus their attention on specific genres---the comprehension of verbal instructions and the comprehension of scientific theories---their methods and findings have wider implications. In particular, the primary function of comprehension is not to archive information but is instead to prepare agents for situated action. Arguments from the evolution of cognition and language are brought to bear on this thesis, and perceptual simulation is proposed as a mechanism well-suited for supporting situated comprehension. Finally, it is conjectured that studying comprehension in the context of situated action is likely to produce significant scientific progress. Sense fades into reference. Roth (in press) If an outsider reviewed research on language comprehension, what conclusions might he or she reach? After reviewing this literature myself for a text on cognitive psychology (Barsalou, 1992, Chapters 8 and 9), I concluded that comprehension is essentially archival memory, describing it as follows: (1) Words enter the cognitive system through phonemic and graphemic processing. (2) Word representations are translated into amodal syntactic str...

Lessons Taught and Lessons Learned: A Story of Differential Teacher Adaptations of Lessons for High- and Low-Ranked Hearing Impaired Students

January 1970


18 Reads

Three teachers were videotaped as they taught the same lesson (finding the main idea of a given text) to groups of high- and low-ranked hearing-impaired high school students. Tapes were transcribed for sign, speech, and contextual features. While teachers indicated the task was within all the students' abilities, teaching strategies differed between high and low groups in terms of the nature of topically related elicitation sets and the number of deviations from the lesson framework to pursue details for clarification with the low-ranked groups. This diminished the possibility of their attaining the stated goal of the lesson, thereby perpetuating their low performance. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

TABLE 1 Three Models of Relative Effort for Speaker-and Addressee-Centered Descriptions 
TABLE 2 Sample Descriptions and Codings Sample 1: Pair Offset by 180°, Round 1, Description No. 8 
Speakers, addressees, and frames of reference: Whose effort is minimized in conversatins about locations?

January 1970


253 Reads

Examined whether speakers choose spatial perspectives that minimize effort for themselves, for their partners, or for both when describing locations. Three possible models are proposed for how descriptions in a particular perspective are more difficult when speaker and addressee view a scene from different offsets. In a communication task, 27 college students described locations on a complex display for 27 other students who shared their vantage point or were offset by 90° or 180°. Both partners either took the perspective of the person who did not know the location or used descriptions that helped them avoid choosing one or the other person's perspective. Speakers who shared their addressee's vantage point gave different descriptions than 180°- and 90°-offset speakers, who did not differ from each other reliably. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

TABLE 1 Sample Contexts and Metaphors With Means and Standard Deviations of Pilot-Test Ratings
TABLE 2 Intercorrelations for Ratings Dimensions and Free Recall Data
TABLE 3 Mean Ratings and Recall Percentages and Standard Deviations
Does Sarcasm Always Sting? Investigating the Impact of Ironic Insults and Ironic Compliments

May 2002


1,609 Reads

Notes that in previous research, there have been inconsistent findings regarding interpretation of ironic insults. In this study the authors examined the possibility that the perception of ironic insults depends on whether participants were asked to judge speaker intent (e.g., mocking) or social impression (e.g., politeness). 60 Ss participated. Three paper and pencil tasks were completed: a ratings task, a distraction task, and a free recall memory task. Results show that ironic insults were perceived to be more mocking, but also more polite, than direct insults. In contrast, ironic compliments were perceived to be more mocking and less polite than direct compliments. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

The Time Course of Generating Causal Antecedent and Causal Consequence Inferences

January 1970


56 Reads

Examined whether causal antecedent and causal consequence inferences are generated on-line during comprehension and also determined the time course of their activation. Ss were 160 undergraduates. Inference category, the rate of word presentation in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) format, and the delay between the last word in a sentence and the test word (i.e., the stimulus onset asynchrony [SOA] interval) were manipulated. Lexical decision latencies were collected on test strings (i.e., nonwords, inference words, or unrelated words) which were presented after each sentence in the passages. There was a threshold of 400 msec after stimulus presentation (RSVP and SOA) before causal antecedents were generated on-line, whereas causal consequences were not generated on-line. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

Figure 1. The proportion of variance accounted for (r^2) when predicting pre-questionnaire scores from the cosines of students' essays and Text C as a function of truncated essay word count.
Figure 2a. Distribution of cosines with Text A for the 94 undergraduates.
Figure 2b. Distribution of cosines with Text A for the 12
Table 2 Correlations of pre knowledge assessment scores and LSA measures. All p
Table 3
Using Latent Semantic Analysis to assess knowledge: Some technical considerations

October 1998


213 Reads

M. E. Schreiner






In a previous paper (Wolfe, Schreiner, Rehder, Laham, Foltz, Kintsch & Landauer, this issue) we have shown how Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) can be used to assess student knowledge - how essays can be graded by LSA and how LSA can match students with appropriate instructional texts. We did this by comparing an essay written by a student with one or more target instructional texts in terms of the cosine between the vector representation of the student's essay and the instructional text in question. This simple method was effective for the purpose, but questions remain about how LSA achieves it's results and how they might be improved. Here we address four such questions: (a) what role use of technical vocabulary per se plays, (b) how long should the student essays be, (c) whether the cosine is optimal measure of semantic relatedness, and (d) how to deal with the directionality of knowledge in the high-dimensional space. Latent Semantic Analysis 3 Using Latent Semantic Analysis to ass...

Theory presentation and assessment in a Problem-Based Learning group

November 1998


204 Reads

In this study we apply the procedures and assumptions of ethnomethodological conversation analysis to analyze a segment of interaction in a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) meeting. In the segment, one member of the group presents a theory pertaining to the case under study. Before it is accepted or rejected, the same speaker presents a second theory to which other group members react with objections and disaffiliative laughter. The presenter consequently rejects the second theory and uses this rejection as a basis for returning to and implicitly accepting the first. Theory presentation and assessment are an integral part of the PBL group process of moving discursively from case history and symptoms to diagnosis and treatment. We observe that the presentation of a theory makes relevant a variety of sequential activities through which participants in instructional activities of this sort come to accept or discard the theory. Implications for teaching and tutorial practice are presented. -...

Associative and Causal Constraints in the Process of Generating Predictive Inferences

May 2001


53 Reads

Four experiments investigated how the reading of semantic associates of a predictive inference raised its activation level. Two kinds of semantic associations were distinguished: those that could causally relate text events to the inference in a representation of the described situation and those that could not. Lexical decision data indicated that in both cases the predictive inferences were activated to the same high level (Exp 1), even when no other causal support of the inference could be found in the text (Exp 3). However, the results of a judgment task performed at various delays (immediately after the reading of the predictive sentences, at a 3- sentence delay, and after the reading of all the texts) suggests that readers evaluate the plausibility of the predictive inferences on the basis of their causal support from text events. These findings suggest that the initial activation of predictive inferences mainly results from the associative constraints governing the elaborative process of the meaning of text words. The causal constraints of the predictive inferences intervene later to eventually reinforce the integration of the inference to readers' representation. The compatibility of these results with the comprehension models of W. Kintsch (1988, 1998) is discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

Content and consistency in early autobiographical recall

January 1970


36 Reads

Very young children are capable of recalling past events. What young children remember and how consistent their recall is from time to time were investigated by comparing the memories of 24 30–35 mo old children for events experienced during 2 separate interviews with their mother, 2 interviews with a stranger, or 1 interview with their mother and 1 with a stranger. Two major findings emerged: (1) Children recalled more accurate information when conversing with the stranger than with their mother and (2) although there was more consistency in children's recall when conversing with the same adult across the 2 interviews than when conversing with a different adult, recall was inconsistent overall. Children overwhelmingly remembered different, but still accurate information on the 2nd interview. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

The Non-Literal Enactment Effect: Filling in the Blanks

August 2007


256 Reads

A large body of research has shown that verbal phrases such as “move the pen” are better remembered when they are physically enacted than when the same phrases are studied under standard verbal learning instructions (e.g., Engelkamp & Krumnacker, 19805. Engelkamp , J. and Krumnacker , H. 1980. Image- and motor-processes in the retention of verbal materials.. Zeitschrift für Experimentelle und Angewandte Psychologie, 27: 511–533. View all references). More recently, a non-literal enactment effect was discovered in which verbal material that was not literally congruent with the accompanying movement was nevertheless better remembered if the speaker had been moving during the utterance. The early demonstrations of this phenomenon involved actors' performances on stage, but the effects were later replicated with non-actors in a lab. A possible explanation for the non-literal effect is that the words and the performed actions are connected at a goal level. In the preliminary study, self-reports of professional actors revealed that all on-stage movements are carefully designed to explain or constrain how the accompanying verbal material constitutes an attempt to reach a goal. In the main study, it was found that this non-verbal information is sufficiently explicit so that non-actors, unacquainted with the situation or the dialogue, can accurately determine the intended goal-directed meaning. The connections between the non-literal enactment effect and theories of embodied cognition are discussed, along with the relevance of non-literal enactment to studies on gestures and pragmatics.

Multiple constraints on discourse options: A quantitative analysis of causal sequences

January 1970


27 Reads

Suggests that quantitative analyses are useful procedures through which to isolate constraints from different levels of discourse and through which to separate the ways in which structure, meaning, and social action differently influence the production of discourse. The value of quantitative analyses of discourse options is demonstrated by (1) focusing on 2 discourse options for the representation of cause and effect and (2) operationalizing semantic constraints (temporal reference) and pragmatic constraints (discourse topic) and examining the relative effects of each on causal reversibility. Results of a quantitative analysis show that no single level of constraint was able to account for causal reversibility. However, the conclusion that causal reversibility is constrained by factors that crosscut different levels of discourse organization supports views of discourse as an interlocking system of structure, meaning, and action. (47 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

TABLE 1 Example Story
TABLE 4 Effect of Action and Goal Primes on Accurate Recognition of Adjacent and Nonadjacent Action and Outcome Targets (Experiment 3)
TABLE 5 Mean Compatibility Ratings and Adjusted Priming Effects for True Items in Experiment 3
Network Representations of Causal Relations in Memory for Narrative Texts: Evidence from Primed Recognition

January 1970


316 Reads

Three experiments investigated how 206 adult readers represent causal relations among events in a narrative. Models of text comprehension were tested. In each experiment Ss read brief narratives and received a speeded-recognition test of their memories for story events. Each story could be represented by a linear chain or by a network. On each trial in the recognition procedure Ss read a priming sentence that reminded them of either a story (general prime) or a specific event in a story (specific prime). Across the experiments, positive responses were faster when the target followed a specific prime that was causally related than when it followed a specific but unrelated prime or a general prime. Importantly, this was the case when the specific prime and target were adjacent and when they were nonadjacent in the surface structure of the story. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

Communicative Skills in Childhood: The Case of Twins

January 1970


46 Reads

Analyzed children's performance on communicative referential tasks and developmental changes in the type and quality of messages. 28 twins and 28 singleton children were compared at different age levels (younger group mean age 5.5 yrs; older group mean age 10.4 yrs). Four interactive situations were considered: twin–twin, single born–single born, twin–single born, and single born–twin. Although a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) did not reveal poorer performances in twins in the number and type of information elements, path analyses indicated different interactive styles and strategies between twins and singletons. The twin pairs tended to intervene in the interaction to support and complete the co-twin's performance; singletons seemed to care more about the quality of information and tended to engage in informative exchanges. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

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