Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2021


In this project, we are studying the effect that prosodic boundaries and accent location have on attachment in an ambiguous phrase like “the daughter of the pharaoh’s advisor.” Under high possessive attachment, the phrase could mean, “There’s a daughter of the pharaoh, and we’re talking about her advisor.” If there is low possessive attachment instead, the phrase could be understood as, “There’s a pharaoh’s advisor, and we’re talking about his/her daughter.” In an auditory questionnaire, participants will listen to 24 dialogues, with the phrases preceded by the question “Who was it?” We placed contrastive accents on the first noun (“the DAUGHTER”), the second noun (“the PHARAOH’s”), or neither noun. Within each accent pattern, there were versions with and without a prosodic boundary (a brief pause after “pharaoh’s”), which resulted in six total conditions. Participants will be asked to choose between two paraphrases of the phrases (a forced-choice task) after hearing each dialogue. We predict that the prosodic boundary will increase the likelihood of participants choosing the high possessive rather than the low possessive attachment, following previous research. If an accent on the first noun also increases high attachment, then this finding would support the Focus Attraction Hypothesis, on which an ambiguous modifier is drawn to the most important information in a phrase or sentence. On the other hand, if accent position does not affect attachment, we will conclude that this possessive structure differs syntactically from ones in which we have shown that accents attract attachment.



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