Prosodic boundaries delay the processing of upcoming lexical information during silent sentence reading

Yingyi Luo, Ming Yan, Xiaolin Zhou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Prosodic boundaries can be used to guide syntactic parsing in both spoken and written sentence comprehension, but it is unknown whether the processing of prosodic boundaries affects the processing of upcoming lexical information. In 3 eye-tracking experiments, participants read silently sentences that allow for 2 possible syntactic interpretations when there is no comma or other cue specifying which interpretation should be taken. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants heard a low-pass filtered auditory version of the sentence, which provided a prosodic boundary cue prior to each sentence. In Experiment 1, we found that the boundary cue helped syntactic disambiguation after the cue and led to longer fixation durations on regions right before the cue than on identical regions without prosodic boundary information. In Experiments 2 and 3, we used a gaze-contingent display-change paradigm to manipulate the parafoveal visibility of the first constituent character of the target word after the disambiguating position. Results of Experiment 2 showed that previewing the first character significantly reduced the reading time of the target word, but this preview benefit was greatly reduced when the prosodic boundary cue was introduced at this position. In Experiment 3, instead of the acoustic cues, a visually presented comma was inserted at the disambiguating position in each sentence. Results showed that the comma effect on lexical processing was essentially the same as the effect of prosodic boundary cue. These findings demonstrate that processing a prosodic boundary could impair the processing of parafoveal information during sentence reading.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)915-930
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Eye movements
  • Parafoveal processing
  • Prosodic boundary
  • Sentence reading
  • Wrap-up process

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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