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MacWhinney, Brian ; Bates, Elizabeth ; Kliegl, Reinhold
Cue validity and sentence interpretation in English, German, and Italian
Kurzfassung auf EnglischLinguistic and psycholinguistic accounts based on the study of English may prove unreliable as guides to sentence processing in even closely related languages. The present study illustrates this claim in a test of sentence interpretation by German-, Italian-, and English-speaking adults. Subjects were presented with simple transitive sentences in which contrasts of (1) word order, (2) agreement, (3) animacy, and (4) stress were systematically varied. For each sentence, subjects were asked to state which of the two nouns was the actor. The results indicated that Americans relied overwhelming on word order, using a first-noun strategy in NVN and a second-noun strategy in VNN and NNV sentences. Germans relied on both agreement and animacy. Italians showed extreme reliance on agreement cues. In both German and Italian, stress played a role in terms of complex interactions with word order and agreement. The findings were interpreted in terms of the “competition model” of Bates and MacWhinney (in H. Winitz (Ed.), Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences Conference on Native and Foreign Language Acquisition. New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1982) in which cue validity is considered to be the primary determinant of cue strength. According to this model, cues are said to be high in validity when they are also high in applicability and reliability.
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