Prosody of classic garden path sentences: The horse raced faster when embedded

Nino Grillo, Miriam Aguilar, Leah Roberts, Andrea Santi, Giuseppina Turco

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Prosody, it is assumed, does not always disambiguate syntax. We investigate one classic case at point from the psycholinguistics literature: garden path sentences involving the mainverb vs. reduced relative clause contrast (the horse raced past the barn (and) fell). Despite their centrality in shaping theories of sentence processing, no experimental work to date has investigated the prosody of these sentences. We show that, contrary to previous assumptions [1, 2], this contrast is prosodically disambiguated, but that this disambiguation can only be observed when the relevant clauses are embedded within a matrix clause which provides a baseline pace. Prosodic disambiguation obtains through pace modulation, with faster pace associated with the embedded/reduced relative reading and regular pace (no change) with main verb analysis. The essential contribution of the matrix sentence is to provide a baseline pace without which it is impossible to establish whether a change took place. Importantly, duration is solely determined by prosody and independent from complexity: faster pace is associated with the more complex structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-288
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the International Conference on Speech Prosody
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018
Event9th International Conference on Speech Prosody, SP 2018 - Poznan, Poland
Duration: 13 Jun 201816 Jun 2018


  • Complexity
  • Embedding vs. sisterhood
  • Garden-path sentences
  • Pace
  • Prosodic disambiguation


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