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The effects of discourse coherence on the persistence of sentence structures

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

We studied the role of discourse coherence relations on structure formulation in sentence production by examining whether a connective, an essential signal of coherence relations, modulates the tendency for speakers to reuse sentence structures (i.e., structural priming). We further examined three possible modulating factors: the type of connectives (additive vs. adversative connective), event similarity (similar event vs. different event), and topic cohesion (with or without available anaphoric antecedent). In four structural priming experiments, native Dutch participants were asked to read either a Dutch double object sentence or a prepositional object sentence and describe pictures that depicted ditransitive events. Critically, the prime and the target either were linked by a connective (en “and” or maar “but”) or were not linked. The verb overlap between the prime and the target was also manipulated. In Experiment 1, the presence of en facilitated structural priming, but only when the verbs were different. In Experiment 2, maar reduced structural priming when the verbs were repeated. Experiment 3 replicated the findings of Experiments 1 and 2 in a within-subjects design. In Experiment 4, there was no referential link between the sentences. Now there was no connective effect on structural priming. Taken together, we demonstrated that the insertion of a connective influences syntactic persistence. The connective effects vary across semantic properties of the connectives, event similarity, and referential continuity, suggesting that the production of sentence structure is modulated by speakers’ prediction about listeners’ inference of coherence relations between consecutive utterances.
Journal: Journal of experimental psychology: learning, memory, and cognition
ISSN: 0278-7393
Volume: 50
Pages: 137 - 160
Publication year:2024
Keywords:A1 Journal article
Accessibility:Open