Semantics and focus in immediate discourse interpretation.
The aim of utterance interpretation is to integrate what is being said with what
has been said so far. This paper examines some factors which affect the "on-line"
construction of a coherent discourse representation. Building on ideas presented
in Garrod and Sanford (1977) and others we report a series of studies showing that
the time taken to assign an antecedent to a gerund can be influenced by semantic
featural overlap between material in the prior discourse and the New/incoming material.
Whether the effect is facilitatory or inhibitory depends on the item's role in
the discourse representation. The data distinguish between two types of response
to semantic overlap between the immediate input and the semantic properties of
the discourse representation. The first is a reflexive allocation of processing resources
to discourse entity linked to semantic overlap information. The second is
a facilitatory effect on the evaluation processes which determine the appropriate
antecedent. When the prior discourse contains a word (e.g., jogging) denoting a
conceptual property which is semantically similar to the immediate speech signal
(e.g., Running towards ... ), antecedent assignment is facilitated but only when the
property is linked to the pragmatically likely subject of the gerund. Antecedent
assignment times are slowed when the conceptual property is linked to the less
pragmatically likely subject of the gerund. We suggest that a processing conflict
occurs when there is a mismatch between the semantic structure and the focus
structure of the discourse representation