[PS-1.3] Across-verb priming of (in)transitivity within and across sentences in reading

Lundquist, B. 1 , Tungseth, M. 1 , Corley, M. 2 , Sorace, A. 2 & Ramchand, G. 1

1 University of Tromsø
2 Edinburgh University

We present results from a novel paradigm that show evidence for abstract, across-verb priming in comprehension (as in Thothathiri et al. 2007, and contra Arai et al., 2007). In two self-paced reading experiments, participants encountered a prime sentence (English version) or phrase (Norwegian version) immediately prior to a target sentence/phrase. The prime contained an optionally transitive verb with or without a direct object (1a, 2a). The target contained an embedded phrase with a different optionally transitive verb (2a, 2b), followed by a temporally ambiguous noun phrase:

1(a) PRIME: The cat threw up on the floor while the boy was cleaning (his room).
(b) TARGET: While the man was eating his best friend entered the restaurant.

2(a) [PRIME The woman who was knitting (a sweater)] gave
(b) [TARGET the man who was eating a flower bouquet for his birthday].

Self-paced reading times for the target sentence at the point of syntactic disambiguation were reduced in the intransitive prime condition compared to the transitive prime condition. Following van Gompel et al., 2006, we assume that readers initially prefer a transitive reading in cases of transitive/intransitive ambiguity. Our results suggest that this preference can be altered due to the presense of an intransitive prime.