Evidence for simultaneous syntactic processing of multiple words during reading

  • Snell Joshua
  • Meeter Martijn
  • Grainger Jonathan

  • Eye movements
  • Language
  • Attention
  • Syntax
  • Semantics
  • Word recognition
  • Morphology linguistics
  • Eyes

ART

A hotly debated issue in reading research concerns the extent to which readers process parafoveal words, and how parafoveal information might influence foveal word recognition. We investigated syntactic word processing both in sentence reading and in reading isolated foveal words when these were flanked by parafoveal words. In Experiment 1 we found a syntactic parafoveal preview benefit in sentence reading, meaning that fixation durations on target words were decreased when there was a syntactically congruent preview word at the target location (n) during the fixation on the pre-target (n-1). In Experiment 2 we used a flanker paradigm in which participants had to classify foveal target words as either noun or verb, when those targets were flanked by syntactically congruent or incongruent words (stimulus on-time 170 ms). Lower response times and error rates in the congruent condition suggested that higher-order (syntactic) information can be integrated across foveal and parafoveal words. Although higher-order parafoveal-on-foveal effects have been elusive in sentence reading, results from our flanker paradigm show that the reading system can extract higher-order information from multiple words in a single glance. We propose a model of reading to account for the present findings.