Information Structure in Language Comprehension: Cognitive Mechanisms Involved in Syntactic, Prosodic and Discourse Focus
Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Davis

UC Davis Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Davis

Information Structure in Language Comprehension: Cognitive Mechanisms Involved in Syntactic, Prosodic and Discourse Focus

No data is associated with this publication.

Information structure (IS) refers to the organization of new (essential) and given (redundant) information in language. Psycholinguistic theories hold that during comprehension, people infer the timing of the new, important information in order to facilitate processing. Several linguistic cues can be used to track IS and the timing of new information, such as the discourse context, syntactic focus constructions and prosodic focus. Previous studies have explained the effects of IS on language processing through a variety of potential cognitive mechanisms, such as attention, depth of processing, and the interaction of IS with good-enough processing and semantic prediction. However, many of these studies have produced contradictory findings that are hard to reconcile. To date, there is no clear picture of how discourse, syntactic and prosodic focus each contribute to language comprehension. The goal of this dissertation is to begin to disentangle the cognitive mechanisms engaged by IS. Chapter 1 provides an extensive review of literature on IS, from linguistic theories to the psycholinguistic findings supporting different cognitive accounts. Chapter 2 presents an eye-tracking reading study assessing the interaction of syntactic focus with semantic prediction. Chapter 3 describes a self-paced reading replication of the same experiment, with additional analyses revealing the developing effect of syntactic focus over the sentence. Chapter 4 consists of a successful online replication of a foundational study by Cutler and Fodor (1979), which set the stage for this dissertation and much of the literature on IS. Lastly, in Chapter 5 I interpret my findings in the context of the linguistic and cognitive theories reviewed in Chapter 1, and describe two planned follow-up experiments. I conclude with a cognitive view of IS informed by this multidisciplinary literature and by the findings described in this dissertation, and highlight many open questions that will guide my future research and move the study of IS forward.

Main Content

This item is under embargo until November 17, 2024.