Sie sind hier: FRIAS School of Language & … Fellows Prof. Dr. Ted Gibson

Prof. Dr. Ted Gibson

Cambridge, MIT
Nov. 2009

Vergangene FRIAS-Aufenthalte

  • Nov. 2009




Researchin my lab ( is aimed at exploring how people represent and process language above the word level. We use a variety of methods, including behavioural experiments (e.g., reading and listening studies, lexical priming experiments, dual-task experiments, individual differences studies), statistical modelling and corpus analyses. In collaboration with other labs we also use eye-tracking methods, event-related potentials (ERPs) and functional MRI. One general line of research investigates the informational constraints in language, including syntactic information, lexical information, plausibility (world knowledge) information, prosodic information and contextual (discourse-level) information. We examine the nature of the constraints, the time-course of their use, and their combination in real-time. We also investigate whether these information constraints are domain-specific or more cognitively general. A second line of research explores the working memory system underlying language processing. In that research domain, we examine the nature of the resource constraints in language processing and what is the best way of quantifying them, both within and across languages.



Selected Publications


  • Breen, M., Fedorenko, E., Wagner, M. & Gibson, E. (In press). Acoustic correlates of information structure. Language and Cognitive Processes.
  • Frank, M.C., Everett, D.L., Fedorenko, E. & Gibson, E. (2008). Number as a cognitive technology: Evidence from Pirahã language and cognition. Cognition, 108, 819-824.
  • Fedorenko, E., Gibson, E. & Rohde, D. (2007). The nature of working memory in linguistic, arithmetic and spatial integration processes. Journal of Memory and Language, 56, 246-269.
  • Wolf, F. & Gibson, E. (2006). Coherence in natural language. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. Gibson, E. (2006). The interaction of top-down and bottom-up statistics in the resolution of syntactic category ambiguity. Journal of Memory and Language, 54, 363-388.
  • Grodner, D. & Gibson, E. (2005). Consequences of the serial nature of linguistic input. Cognitive Science, 29, 261-291.
  • Watson, D. & Gibson, E. (2004). The relationship between intonational phrasing and syntactic structure in language production. Language and Cognitive Processes, 19, 713-755.
  • Hsiao, F. & Gibson, E. (2003). Processing relative clauses in Chinese. Cognition, 90, 3-27.
  • Kaan, E., Harris, A., Gibson, E. & Holcomb, P. (2000). The P600 as an index of syntactic integration difficulty. Language and Cognitive Processes, 15, 159-201.
  • Gibson, E. (1998). Linguistic complexity: Locality of syntactic dependencies. Cognition, 68, 1-76.
  • Patel, A.D., Gibson, E., Ratner, J., Besson, M. & Holcomb, P. (1998). Processing grammatical relations in language and music: An event-related potential study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 10, 717-733.



FRIAS Research Project


Evaluating memory-based vs. experience-based accounts of sentence complexity


The proposed research is aimed at comparatively evaluating memory-based vs. experience-based (frequentist) accounts of sentence complexity using relative clause structures in English and German. According to memory-based accounts, difficulty in long-distance dependencies is due to the cost associated with retrieving the non-local dependent from memory. Furthermore, different versions of memory-based accounts propose different ways to measuring distance (e.g., in terms of words / discourse referents, or in terms of similar elements that satisfy the requirements of the retrieval cue). In contrast, according to experience-based accounts, difficulty in long-distance dependencies is due to the lower frequency of constructions involving such dependencies compared to constructions where the dependencies are local. The proposed set of studies will use subject- and object-extracted relative clauses - commonly used to investigate questions related to syntactic complexity - to evaluate predictions of memory- vs. experience-based accounts. In particular, we will manipulate two properties of relative clause constructions: (1) the animacy of the head and the embedded nouns, and (2) the voice of the embedded verb (active vs. passive). Three methodologies will be used: (a) self-paced reading, (b) completion studies, and (c) corpus studies. Completion and corpus studies will be used to estimate comprehenders' expectations of different syntactic categories at various points in the critical materials, and self-paced reading studies will determine the loci of complexity effects. Relative clauses with animate vs. inanimate nouns in different syntactic positions differ in their frequency of occurrence (e.g., Gennari & MacDonald, 2008). Therefore, examining the processing difficulty for different types of these relative clauses will help evaluate the predictions of experience-based accounts. Furthermore, by manipulating the voice of the verb along with the animacy of the relevant nouns, we can evaluate different versions of memory-based accounts by examining whether longer-distance dependencies (in passive-voice constructions) result in greater processing difficulty, and whether relative clauses where the two nouns are matched for animacy (e.g., both are animate) cause more processing difficulty due to higher interference between similar nouns. Some preliminary work in English (Fedorenko et al., in prep.) provides evidence for similarity-based memory accounts. The proposed research will further evaluate the predictions of the competing theories in English, as well as in German, which is complementary to English because of the different base word order (SOV instead of SVO), and different from English effects reported with respect to the processing of long-distance dependencies (Konieczny, 2000). Conducting parallel studies with very similar materials in these two languages therefore has a potential to gain important insights into the nature of syntactic complexity with respect to existing theories of sentence comprehension.