ERIC Number: ED218598
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 1982-Jul
Reference Count: N/A
Measurement of Syntactic Complexity Relative to Linguistic Context. Technical Report No. 255.
Davison, Alice; Lutz, Richard
A reaction-time experiment measured the time that subjects needed to read and comprehend a series of sentences, the syntactic form of which was systematically varied. The focus was on the effect of syntactic structure on processing time, reflected in reaction time in a neutral context, and the effect of prior context on time needed to process a given type of syntactic structure. Undergraduate students were presented paired items in randomized order on a computer screen. After all the experiment items were presented, the subjects were asked to fill out a questionnaire about how they approached the task and what they felt about the items (interesting or not, natural sounding or nonnatural). The target sentences had two forms, related by transformations (passive, adverb preposing, there insertion, raising to subject, raising to object). These rules changed word order or grammatical relations. Results showed the transformed version, with a less perspicuous structure, was harder to process than the untransformed, in a neutral context. Reaction time decreased if the context mentioned the subject and the topic of the sentence. A mismatch between context and target subject/topic increased reaction time somewhat. The results have implications for the definition of sentence topic as subject rather than initial element and for grammatical complexity, which is not absolute. (Author/HOD)
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Sponsor: National Inst. of Education (ED), Washington, DC.
Authoring Institution: Illinois Univ., Urbana. Center for the Study of Reading.; Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Inc., Cambridge, MA.