How do linguistic illusions arise? Rational inference and good-enough processing as competing latent processes within individuals
Dario Paape
May 2024

Non-literal interpretations of implausible sentences such as "The mother gave the candle the daughter" have been taken as evidence for a rational error-correction mechanism that reconstructs the intended utterance from the ill-formed input ("... gave the daughter the candle"). However, the good-enough processing framework offers an alternative explanation: readers sometimes miss problematic aspects of sentences because they are only processing them superficially, which leads to acceptability illusions. As a synthesis of these accounts, I propose that rational inferences about errors on the one hand and good-enough processing on the other are competing latent processes that simultaneously occur within the same comprehender. In support of this view, I present data from a two-dimensional grammaticality/ interpretability judgment task with different types of subtly ill-formed sentences. Both rational inference and good-enough processing predict positive interpretability judgments for such sentences, but only good-enough processing also predicts positive grammaticality judgments. By fitting a lognormal race model jointly to judgments and response latencies, I show that rational inference and good-enough processing actively trade off with each other during reading. Furthermore, individual differences measures reveal that participant traits such as linguistic pedantry, interpretational charity, and analytic/intuitive cognitive styles contribute to variability in the processing patterns.
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Reference: lingbuzz/007385
(please use that when you cite this article)
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keywords: linguistic illusions, good-enough processing, rational inference, individual differences, semantics, syntax
previous versions: v1 [June 2023]
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