Psychology Faculty, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia
This paper gives an overview of the published data on eye movement parameters while reading sentences in different languages with both local and global syntactic ambiguity. A locally ambiguous sentence contains a syntactically problematic phrase that leads to only one interpretation, while a globally ambiguous sentence has more than one distinct interpretation. In the first case the ambiguity persists only to the end of the sentence, when it is successfully resolved; in the second case the ambiguity is still present after reading the whole sentence. The obvious difficulty in analyzing the structure of locally and globally ambiguous sentences leads to increased reading time compared with unambiguous sentences. The syntactic ambiguity increases two major parameters: the fixation duration when reading words critical for interpreting the sentence, and the frequency of regressive saccades to reread those words. The reading time for critical words, disambiguating the local ambiguity, depends on the principle of early/late closure (i.e., high/low attachment): preferring a recurrent pattern to associate the critical word with a distant or closer word, respectively (as determined by its position in the sentence), and differs across languages. The first study of eye movement parameters in reading globally syntactic ambiguous sentences in the Russian language is reported in this paper. Our findings open up the prospects of quantitative studies of syntactic disambiguation in Slavonic and Romano-Germanic languages.
Keywords: reading, psycholinguistics, syntactic ambiguity, gaze fixations, regressive saccades, review