B4: "Processing at the Syntax-Discourse Interface" (Lyn Frazier)

Mon 14.15-15.45, Tue 16.15-17.45, Thu 9.15-10.45, Fri 11.15-12.45

Room: 0.01




This course will focus on two questions. The first concerns how Not At Issue (NAI) content is processed, in particular content in appositive relative clauses, parentheticals and expressives.  My colleagues and I have argued that NAI content expresses a distinct speech act and that speech acts generally organize working memory during sentence processing (Dillon, Clifton and Frazier 2014, Dillon et al., submitted).  Evidence supporting this claim will be presented.  We will also explore its consequences for the issue of how syntax constrains interpretation:  where is compositional interpretation tightly constrained by the syntax, and where do content-driven rather than form-driven inferences largely determine interpretation, e.g., the interpretation of expressives, and of the relation between NAI and At Issue content


The second main question to be addressed is how syntactic form influences the identification of focus.  We will go over psycholinguistic evidence from many experimental techniques (phoneme monitoring, acceptability judgments, eye movements during reading) and from different empirical domains (e.g., ellipsis, corrections) suggesting that pitch accent alone does not determine focus in language processing, even in a language like English. The consequences of focus identification for related notions like main assertion/At Issue content and for identification of a potential implicit Question Under Discussion (QUD) will also be addressed. The discussion of focus will end with a look at how  the processor's assumptions about focus and contrast interact to organize discourse (Repp, Frazier and Hemforth 2015).


The final part of the course will pick up, and perhaps pull together, strands of the course concerned with accommodation of unstated information.  Discussion will include the role of focus in accommodation (Moulton et al., submitted),  accommodation of the speakers epistemic state (Clifton and Frazier, submitted), but also accommodation more generally (Singh et al. 2015).  The course will end with a discussion of implications of the work for theories of processing and theories of grammar, and a discussion of unsolved puzzles.



  • Carlson, K., Dickey, M. W., Frazier, L., & Clifton, C., Jr. (2009) “Information structure expectations in sentence comprehension” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 62(1), 114-139.
  • Clifton, Jr., C. and Frazier, L.. (2012)  Discourse Integration Guided by the Question under Discussion.  Cognitive Psychology, 65, 352-379.
  • Clifton, Jr., C., and Frazier, L. (Submitted) Accommodation to an uncomfortable state. Journal of Memory and Language.
  • Clifton, Jr., C., and Frazier, L. (Submitted) Corrective exchanges:  Effects of parallelism and focus. Language and Speech.
  • Dillon, B., Clifton, Jr., C., & Frazier, L. (2014) Pushed aside:  Parentheticals  &Processing. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 29(4), 483-498.
  • Dillon, B., Clifton, Jr., C., Sloggett, S., & Frazier, L.  (Submitted) Not all relative clauses interfere with filler-gap processing equally: Appositive relative clauses and the organization of linguistic working memory.
  • Frazier, L., Dillon, B., & Clifton Jr., C. (2014) A note on interpreting damn expressives:  transferring the blame.  Language and Cognition, 29, 1-14.
  • Frazier, L., & Hemforth, B. (2015) Contrast Markers in French and English. Poster presented at Architectures and Mechanisms of Language Processing, Malta, September.
  • Moulton, K., Chan, Q., Cheng, T., Han, C-h, Kim, K-m, and Nickel-Thompson, S.  (2015) Focus on Cataphora: Experiments in Context. Simon Frasier University manuscript.
  • Potts, C. (2007) Conventional implicatures, a distinguished class of meanings. In Gillian Ramchand and Charles Reiss, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Interfaces, 475-501. Oxford University Press.
  • Repp, S. (2010). Defining 'contrast' as in information-structural notion. Lingua Volume 120, Edited by Sophie Repp and Philippa Cook.
  • Singh, R., Fedorenko, E., Mahowald, K., & Gibson, E. (2015) Accommodating Presuppositions Is Inappropriate in Implausible Contexts Cognitive Science
  • Syrett, K. & Koev, T. (2015) Experimental evidence for the truth conditional contribution and shifting information status of appositives. Journal of Semantics, 32, 525-577.
  • Tian, Y. and Breheny, R.,and Ferguson, H.J. (2010) Why we simulate negated information: A dynamic pragmatic account. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63 (12), 2305‑2312.


Lecturer: Lyn Frazier, UMass Amherst