This project aims to contribute to a better understanding of the effects of linguistic prosody (as opposed to affective or emotional prosody) on sentence processing. In particular, it explores the effects of pitch accents on syntactically ambiguous sentences. It is well-known that prosodic boundaries, one of the two major prosodic units in English, can affect the attachment of ambiguous phrases. Pitch accents, on the other hand, are usually thought to influence only semantic and discourse representations of a sentence, by marking given vs. new vs. contrastive information. This research explores the hypothesis that pitch accents can attract attachment, especially in the presence of a prosodic boundary after the nearest attachment site. A series of auditory experiments will explore accent effects on attachment in three different syntactic structures, with and without supportive prosodic boundaries. Following experiments will place the sentences in contexts to examine whether the focus conveyed by a preceding question can also attract attachment and whether accents remain informative for attachment when they clearly contrast with prior context.

Public Health Relevance

This project will contribute to a fuller understanding of how prosody, or the tune and rhythm of language, affects sentence processing. It explores how pitch accents, an aspect of linguistic prosody (rather than affective or emotional prosody), can modify the syntactic structure and meaning of a sentence. The better we understand the use of linguistic prosody and its sub-units in language comprehension for unimpaired adults, the better we will be able to analyze what uses are disordered vs. spared in patients with aphasia or other types of brain damage or children with hearing difficulties, and the better we can plan to treat these problems.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) (R15)
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Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
Program Officer
Miller, Brett
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Morehead State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Harris, Jesse A; Carlson, Katy (2017) Information Structure Preferences in Focus-Sensitive Ellipsis: How Defaults Persist. Lang Speech :23830917737110
Rohde, Hannah; Tyler, Joseph; Carlson, Katy (2017) Form and function: Optional complementizers reduce causal inferences. Glossa 2:
Carlson, Katy; Tyler, Joseph C (2017) Accents, Not Just Prosodic Boundaries, Influence Syntactic Attachment. Lang Speech :23830917712282
Harris, Jesse A; Carlson, Katy (2016) Keep it local (and final): Remnant preferences in ""let alone"" ellipsis. Q J Exp Psychol (Hove) 69:1278-301
Carlson, Katy (2014) Predicting contrast in sentences with and without focus marking. Lingua 150:78-91
Frazier, Lyn; Clifton Jr, Charles; Carlson, Katy et al. (2014) Standing alone with prosodic help. Lang Cogn Process 29:459-469
Carlson, Katy (2013) The Role of Only in Contrasts in and out of Context. Discourse Process 50:249-275