Relative Prosodic Boundary Strength and Prior Bias in Disambiguation

Michael Wagner, McGill University
Serena Crivellaro, Cornell University`09

Recent research has found evidence that in parsing, the relative rather than the absolute size of prosodic boundaries play a role in disambiguating attachment ambiguities, and found that categorical differences in relative strength but not merely quantitative ones are of importance. This paper presents further evidence that relative boundary strength matters, and that contrary to earlier findings gradient differences in boundary rank affect parsing decisions in gradient ways. Furthermore, the plausibility of a given reading in a given context shifts the perceptual boundaries between different phrasings such that quantitatively stronger prosodic cues are necessary to counter-act a prior bias against it.