Middle ratings rise regardless of grammatical construction: testing syntactic variability in a new repeated exposure paradigm
J.M.M. Brown, Gisbert Fanselow, Reinhold Kliegl
October 2020
 

People seem to perceive sentences more favourably after hearing or reading them many times. A prominent approach in linguistic theory claims that these types of exposure effects (satiation effects) show direct evidence of a generative approach to linguistic knowledge: only some sentences improve under repeated exposure, and which sentences do improve can be predicted by a model of linguistic competence that yields natural syntactic classes. However replications of the original findings have been inconsistent, and it remains unclear whether satiation effects can be reliably induced in an experimental setting at all. In this paper, we report the results of a new experimental paradigm (the Standardised Block paradigm) that reliably induces exposure effects in wh-question constructions across two languages. We report four new findings. First, the effects pertain to zone of well-formedness rather than syntactic class: all intermediate ratings, including calibrated distractor items, increase at the beginning of the experimental session regardless of syntactic construction. Second, ratings rise but do not satiate. Third, these effects are consistent across languages. Fourth, wh-question constructions show similar profiles in English and German, despite these languages being traditionally considered to differ strongly in whether they show effects on movement: in both languages violations of the superiority condition can be modulated to a similar degree by manipulating animacy or complexity of the wh-phrase. We demonstrate that the Standardised Block paradigm improves on classic satiation methods by allowing two crucial tests to be separated: whether repeated exposure effects exist at all is tested separately from whether exposure effects selectively target certain grammatical constructions. We conclude that repeated exposure effects can be reliably induced in rating experiments but exposure effects do not selectively target certain grammatical constructions. Instead repeated exposure effects are a phenomenon of gradient intermediate judgements.
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Reference: lingbuzz/005496
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keywords: superiority, islands, psycholinguistics, satiation, gradient judgments, syntax
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