How Spanish Speakers Use Referential Information in the Resolution of Prepositional Phrase Syntactic Ambiguity

Open Access
Echols, Lauren Michelle
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Paola Eulalia Dussias, Thesis Supervisor
  • John Lipski, Honors Advisor
  • sentence processing
  • ambiguity resolution
  • cross-linguistic variation
  • Spanish language processing
  • referential context
  • visual-world
Fifty-five participants took part in an eye-tracking study examining how referential information impacts the resolution of syntactic ambiguity. The participants were native speakers of Spanish with varying levels of proficiency in English. The ambiguity under examination here is prepositional phrase (PP) ambiguity, which is exemplified in the following sentence: “Put the frog on the napkin in the box”. The research question focused on whether participants interpreted the ambiguous PP as a verb phrase modifier (indicating where the frog must be moved to) or a noun phrase modifier (indicating which frog should be moved). An additional feature of the experiment focused on how participants interpreted the ambiguity in the context of a visual scene with one-referent or two-referents. The results showed that Spanish speakers, similar to English speakers, use referential information to guide their parsing decisions. Additionally, Spanish speakers show a preference for VP-attachment as has been shown in speakers of German, Greek and English.