The real-time processing of sluiced sentences.

Research paper by Josée J Poirier, Katie K Wolfinger, Lisa L Spellman, Lewis P LP Shapiro

Indexed on: 17 Mar '10Published on: 17 Mar '10Published in: Journal of Psycholinguistic Research


Ellipsis refers to an element that is absent from the input but whose meaning can nonetheless be recovered from context. In this cross-modal priming study, we examined the online processing of Sluicing, an ellipsis whose antecedent is an entire clause: The handyman threw a book to the programmer but I don't know which book the handyman threw to the programmer(ellipsis.) To understand such an elliptical construction, the listener arguably must 'fill in' the missing material ("the handyman threw___ to the programmer") based on that which occurs in the antecedent clause. We aimed to determine the point in time in which reconstruction of the sluiced sentence is attempted and whether such a complex antecedent is re-accessed by the ellipsis. Out of the two antecedent constituents for which we probed, only the Object (programmer) was found active in the elliptical clause, confirming that an antecedent is attributed to the sluice in real time. Possible reasons for the non-observation of the Subject (handyman) are considered. We also suggest that ellipses are detected earlier in coordinated than subordinated sentences.