Garden-path sentence

A garden-path sentence is a grammatically correct sentence that starts in such a way that a reader's most likely interpretation will be incorrect; the reader is lured into a parse that turns out to be a dead end or yields a clearly unintended meaning. "Garden path" refers to the saying "to be led down [or up] the garden path", meaning to be deceived, tricked, or seduced. In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Fowler describes such sentences as unwittingly laying a "false scent".[1]

Such a sentence leads the reader toward a seemingly familiar meaning that is actually not the one intended. It is a special type of sentence that creates a momentarily ambiguous interpretation because it contains a word or phrase that can be interpreted in multiple ways, causing the reader to begin to believe that a phrase will mean one thing when in reality it means something else. When read, the sentence seems ungrammatical, makes almost no sense, and often requires rereading so that its meaning may be fully understood after careful parsing.

ExamplesEdit

"The old man the boat."Edit

 
Less obvious complete parse
 
Suggesting uncompletable parse

This is a common example that has been the subject of psycholinguistic research and has been used to test the capabilities of artificial intelligence efforts.[2] The difficulty in correctly parsing the sentence results from the fact that readers tend to interpret old as an adjective. Reading the, they expect a noun or an adjective to follow, and when they then read old followed by man they assume that the phrase the old man is to be interpreted as determineradjectivenoun. When readers encounter another the following the supposed noun man (rather than the expected verb, as in e.g. The old man washed the boat),[a] they are forced to re-analyse the sentence. As with other examples, one explanation for the initial misunderstanding by the reader is that a sequence of words or phrases tends to be analysed in terms of a frequent pattern: in this case: determineradjectivenoun.[3] Rephrased, the sentence could be rewritten as "The old are the persons who man the boat."

"The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families."Edit

This is another commonly cited example.[4] Like the previous sentence, the initial parse is to read the complex houses as a noun phrase, but the complex houses married does not make semantic sense (houses do not marry) and the complex houses married and single makes no sense at all (after married and..., the expectation is another verb to form a compound predicate). The correct parsing is The complex [noun phrase] houses [verb] married and single soldiers [noun phrase] and their families [noun phrase]. Rephrased, the sentence could be rewritten as "The complex provides housing for the soldiers, married or single, as well as their families."

"The horse raced past the barn fell."Edit

This frequently used, classic example of a garden-path sentence is attributed to Thomas Bever. The sentence is hard to parse because raced can be interpreted as a finite verb or as a passive participle. The reader initially interprets raced as the main verb in the simple past, but when the reader encounters fell, they are forced to re-analyse the sentence, concluding that raced is being used as a passive participle and horse is the direct object of the subordinate clause.[5] The sentence could be replaced by "The horse that was raced past the barn fell", where that was raced past the barn tells the reader which horse is under discussion.[6] Such examples of initial ambiguity resulting from a "reduced relative with [a] potentially intransitive verb" ("The horse raced in the barn fell.") can be contrasted with the lack of ambiguity for a non-reduced relative ("The horse that was raced in the barn fell.") or with a reduced relative with an unambiguously transitive verb ("The horse frightened in the barn fell."). As with other examples, one explanation for the initial misunderstanding by the reader is that a sequence of phrases tends to be analysed in terms of the frequent pattern: agentactionpatient.[7]

In other languagesEdit

GermanEdit

modern as adjective or verb

"Modern bei dieser Bilderausstellung werden vor allem die Rahmen, denn sie sind aus Holz und im feuchten Keller gelagert worden."

This example turns on the two meanings in German of modern, which can be either the adjective modern as in English, or the verb modern meaning, "to become moldy", "to rot".[8]

The theme of the "picture exhibition" in the first clause lends itself to interpreting modern as an adjective meaning "contemporary", until the last two words of the sentence:

  • "Most of all, it is the picture frames in this exhibition that are modern, because they are made out of wood, and had been stored in the dank cellar."

This causes dissonance at the end of the sentence, and forces back-tracking to recover the proper usage and sense (and different pronunciation) of the first word of the sentence, not as the adjective meaning "contemporary", but as the verb meaning "going moldy":

  • "Most of all, it is the picture frames in this exhibition that are becoming moldy, because they are made out of wood and had been stored in the dank cellar."

ParsingEdit

When reading a sentence, readers will analyse the words and phrases they see and make inferences about the sentence’s grammatical structure and meaning in a process called parsing. Generally, readers will parse the sentence chunks at a time and will try to interpret the meaning of the sentence at each interval. As readers are given more information, they make an assumption of the contents and meaning of the whole sentence. With each new portion of the sentence encountered, they will try to make that part make sense with the sentence structures that they have already interpreted and their assumption about the rest of the sentence. The garden-path sentence effect occurs when the sentence has a phrase or word with an ambiguous meaning that the reader interprets in a certain way and, when they read the whole sentence, there is a difference in what has been read and what was expected. The reader must then read and evaluate the sentence again to understand its meaning. The sentence may be parsed and interpreted in different ways due to the influence of pragmatics, semantics, or other factors describing the extralinguistic context.[9]

Parsing strategiesEdit

Various strategies can be used when parsing a sentence, and there is much debate over which parsing strategy humans use. Differences in parsing strategies can be seen from the effects of a reader attempting to parse a part of a sentence that is ambiguous in its syntax or meaning. For this reason, garden-path sentences are often studied as a way to test which strategy humans use.[10] Two debated parsing strategies that humans are thought to use are serial and parallel parsing.

Serial parsing is where the reader makes one interpretation of the ambiguity and continues to parse the sentence in the context of that interpretation. The reader will continue to use the initial interpretation as reference for future parsing until disambiguating information is given.[11]

Parallel parsing is where the reader recognizes and generates multiple interpretations of the sentence and stores them until disambiguating information is given, at which point only the correct interpretation is maintained.[11]

Reanalysis of a garden-path sentenceEdit

When ambiguous nouns appear, they can function as both the object of the first item or the subject of the second item. In that case, the former use is preferred. It is also found that the reanalysis of a garden-path sentence gets more and more difficult with the length of the ambiguous phrase.[12]

Recovery strategiesEdit

A research paper published by Meseguer, Carreiras and Clifton (2002) stated that intensive eye movements are observed when people are recovering from a mild garden-path sentence. They proposed that people use two strategies, both of which are consistent with the selective reanalysis process described by Frazier and Rayner in 1982. According to them, the readers predominantly use two alternative strategies to recover from mild garden-path sentences.

  • The more common one includes the regression of eyes from the first disambiguation directly to the main verb of the sentence. Then the readers reread the remainder of the sentence, fixating their eyes to the next region and the adverb (the beginning of the ambiguous part of the sentence).
  • The lesser-used strategy includes the regression from the first disambiguation directly to the adverb.[13]

Partial reanalysisEdit

Partial reanalysis occurs when analysis is not complete. Frequently, when people can make even a little bit of sense of the later sentence, they stop analysing further so the former part of the sentence still remains in memory and does not get discarded from it.

Therefore, the original misinterpretation of the sentence remains even after the reanalysis is done; hence participants' final interpretations are often incorrect.[14]

Difficulties in revisionEdit

Recent research on garden-path sentences has utilized adult second language learners, or L2 learners, to study difficulties in revision of the initial parsing of garden-path sentences. During the processing of garden-path sentences, the reader has an initial parse of the sentence, but often has to revise their parse because it is incorrect. Unlike adult native speakers, children tend to have difficulty revising their first parsing of the sentence. This difficulty in revision is attributed to the underdeveloped executive functioning of children. Executive functioning skills are utilized when the initial parsing of a sentence needs to be discarded for a revised parsing, and underdeveloped or damaged executive functioning impairs this ability. As the child ages and their executive functioning completes development, they gain the ability to revise the initial incorrect parsing. However, difficulties in revision are not unique to children. Adult L2 learners also exhibit difficulty in revisions, but the difficulties cannot be attributed to underdeveloped executive functioning like in children.

In a 2015 study, adult L2 learners were compared to adult native speakers and native speaking children in revision and processing of garden-path sentences using act-out errors and eye movement.[15] Adult native English speakers, English speaking children, and adult English L2 learners were shown garden-path sentences or disambiguated garden-path sentences that either had reference information or no reference information and then asked to act out the sentence. Adult L2 speakers had fewer act-out errors than native speaking children when the garden-path sentence was presented with referential information, similarly to the adult native speakers that present less act-out errors than both the adult L2 learners and native speaking children. Adult L2 speakers and native adult speakers were able to use discourse and referential information to aid in their processing of the garden-path sentences. This ability could be due to the adults’ developed executive functioning allowing them more cognitive resources, discourse and referential information, to aid in parsing and revision. Additionally, the use of discourse and referential information could be due to L1-transfer because Italian and English share the same sentence structure. However, when the garden-path sentences are disambiguated and then presented, the adult L2 speakers had the highest act-out error rate followed by native speaking children and then by adult native speakers. The results of this study indicate that difficulties in parsing revision are more common than originally thought and are not just confined to children or individuals with reduced executive functioning. Adults, both native speakers and L2 learners, use discourse and referential information in parsing and sentence processing. But adult L2 learners and native speaking children had similar error rates for garden-path sentences with no reference information, indicating systematic revision failure.[15]

Brain processing in computationEdit

One way to determine the brain processes involved is the use of brain electrophysiology. Brain electrophysiology is used to study the impact of disfluencies[clarification needed] in sentence processing by the brain, which specifically use event-related potentials (ERPs). ERPs are voltages generated by the brain that can be measured through a device placed on the scalp. It is also observed that specific components of the ERPs can be associated with the activation of different and specific linguistic processes of the brain.[16] Within ERPs, P600 is the most important component. Its activation occurs when the parser comes across a syntactic violation such as The broker persuaded to sell the stock[17] or when the parser synthesizes an unsatisfactory disambiguation on an ambiguous string of words such as The doctor charged the patient was lying.[18] Hence, the activation of P600 marks the parser's attempt to revise the sentence's structural mismatch or ambiguity. However, it is also observed that the activation of P600 may be low or completely absent if the parser is asked to only pay attention to the semantic aspects of a sentence either through an explicit instruction[19] or through the use of specific words as a way to force a semantic analysis of the sentence.[20] The result of yet another study conducted by Osterhout in 1997 revealed that the activation of P600 varies with the parser's own attentions to the syntactic violations of the sentence.[21]

Effects of disfluencyEdit

Disfluent sentences have a direct effect on the way sentence structure is built in the parser's mind. Depending on its location within a sentence, a disfluency either aids in the computation of a sentence or forces the parser to linger on the sentence for a longer period of time. It is observed that the more an individual lingers on an incorrect parse, the more it is likely that the sentence will end up being interpreted incorrectly. It also appears[clarification needed] that the presence of a disfluency in a sentence—caused by filled and long silent parses—does not elicit the P600. Instead, it elicits another ERP component, N400, which gets activated when people try to integrate a new word into the preceding sentence's context.[22]

See alsoEdit

Similar phenomenaEdit

OtherEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Experiments that measured readers' reaction times after each word indicated that "the reaction time following the disambiguating word [the or washed following man] is significantly greater for the garden path than for the normal sentence."[3]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Fowler, Henry Watson (1926). A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Guo, Jeff (18 May 2016). "Google's new artificial intelligence can't understand these sentences. Can you?". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2017-03-13.
  3. ^ a b Di Sciullo, Anna-Maria (2005). UG and External Systems: Language, Brain and Computation. Benjamins. pp. 225–226. ISBN 978-9-027-22799-7.
  4. ^ Petrie, H.; Darzentas, J.; Walsh, T. (2016). Universal Design 2016: Learning from the Past, Designing for the Future: Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Universal Design (UD 2016), York, United Kingdom, August 21 – 24, 2016. IOS Press. p. 463. ISBN 978-1-614-99684-2.
  5. ^ Dynel, Marta (2009). Humorous Garden-Paths: A Pragmatic-Cognitive Study. Cambridge Scholars Publisher. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-1-443-81228-3.
  6. ^ Bever, Thomas G. (1 January 2001) [Originally published in R. Hayes (ed.) Cognition and Language Development (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1970, 279–362)]. "The cognitive basis for linguistic structures (reprint)". In Sanz, Montserrat; Laka, Itziar; Tanenhaus, Michael K. (eds.). Language Down the Garden Path: The Cognitive and Biological Basis for Linguistic Structures. Oxford Studies in Biolinguistics. Oxford University Press. pp. 1–80. ISBN 978-0-199-67713-9.
  7. ^ Bever, David J.; Bever, Thomas G. (2001). Sentence Comprehension: The Integration of Habits and Rules. Bradford Books. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-0-262-70080-1.
  8. ^ Wortspielereien: Postmoderne modern anders [Word plays: Postmodern ones age differently]. Die Presse. 2008-03-29. Retrieved 2016-03-02.
  9. ^ Reisberg, D. (2010). Cognition: Exploring the science of the mind. (4 ed.). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
  10. ^ Hickok, Gregory (1993). "Parallel parsing: Evidence from reactivation in garden-path sentences". Journal of Psycholinguistic Research Journal of Psycholinguistic Research. 22 (2): 239–250. doi:10.1007/BF01067832 (inactive 2020-08-25). ISSN 0090-6905. Retrieved 16 November 2012.CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of August 2020 (link)
  11. ^ a b Meng, Michael; Bader, Markus (2000). "Ungrammaticality detection and garden path strength: Evidence for serial parsing". Language and Cognitive Processes. 15 (6): 615–666. doi:10.1080/016909600750040580. S2CID 57051799.
  12. ^ Ferreria, F.; Henderson, J. (1991). "Recovery from misanalyses of garden-path sentences". Journal of Memory and Language. 30 (6): 725–745. doi:10.1016/0749-596x(91)90034-h.
  13. ^ Meseguer, E.; Carreiras, M.; Clifton, C. (2002). "Overt reanalysis strategies and eye movements during the reading of mild garden path sentences". Memory & Cognition. Published in partnership with the Psychonomic Society. 30 (4): 551–561. doi:10.3758/BF03194956. PMID 12184556.
  14. ^ Patson, N. D.; Darowski, E. S.; Moon, N.; Ferreria, F. (2009). "Lingering misinterpretations in garden-path sentences: Evidence from a paraphrasing task". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 35 (1): 280–285. doi:10.1037/a0014276. PMID 19210099.
  15. ^ a b Pozzan, Lucia; Trueswell, John C. (2015-12-07). "Second language processing and revision of garden-path sentences: a visual word study". Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. 19 (3): 636–643. doi:10.1017/s1366728915000838. ISSN 1366-7289. PMC 4870893. PMID 27212888.
  16. ^ Osterhout, L., McLaughlin, J., Kim, A., Greenwald, R., & Inoue, K. (2004). Sentences in the brain: Event-related potentials as real-time reflects of sentence comprehension and language learning. In M. Carreiras & C. Clifton, Jr. (Eds.), The on-line study of sentence comprehension: Eyetracking ERP and beyond. Psychology Press.
  17. ^ Osterhout, L.; Holcomb, P. (1992). "Event-related brain potentials elicited by syntactic anomaly". Journal of Memory and Language. 31 (6): 785–804. doi:10.1016/0749-596x(92)90039-z.
  18. ^ Osterhout, L.; Holcomb, P. J.; Swinney, D. A. (1994). "Brain potentials elicited by garden-path sentences: Evidence of the application of verb information during parsing". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 20 (4): 786–803. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.453.3997. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.20.4.786.
  19. ^ Hahne, A.; Friederici, A. D. (2002). "Differential task effects on semantic and syntactic processes as revealed by ERPs". Cognitive Brain Research. 13 (3): 339–356. doi:10.1016/s0926-6410(01)00127-6. hdl:11858/00-001M-0000-0010-ABA4-1. PMID 11918999.
  20. ^ Gunter, T. C.; Friederici, A. D.; Schriefers, H. (2000). "Syntactic gender and semantic expectancy: ERPs reveal early autonomy and late interaction". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 12 (4): 556–568. doi:10.1162/089892900562336. PMID 10936910. S2CID 32112845.
  21. ^ Osterhout, L. (1997), "On the brain response to syntactic anomalies: Manipulations of word position and word class reveal individual differences", Brain and Language, 59 (3): 494–522, doi:10.1006/brln.1997.1793, PMID 9299074, S2CID 14354089
  22. ^ Maxfield, Nathan D.; Justine M. Lyon; Elaine R. Silliman (November 2009). "Disfluencies along the garden path: Brain electrophysiological evidence of disrupted sentence processing". Brain and Language. 111 (2): 86–100. doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2009.08.003. PMID 19765813. S2CID 205791801.

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