A series of speech production and categorization experiments demonstrates that naïve speakers and listeners reliably use correspondences between prosodic phrasing and syntactic constituent structure to resolve standing and temporary ambiguity. Materials obtained from a co-operative gameboard task show that prosodic phrasing effects (e.g., the location of the strongest break in an utterance) are independent of discourse factors that might be expected to influence the impact of syntactic ambiguity, including the availability of visual referents for the meanings of ambiguous utterances and the use of utterances as instructions versus confirmations of instructions. These effects hold across two dialects of English, spoken in the American Midwest, and New Zealand. Results from PP-attachment and verb transitivity ambiguities indicate clearly that the production of prosody-syntax correspondences is not conditional upon situational disambiguation of syntactic structure, but is rather more directly tied to grammatical constraints on the production of prosodic and syntactic form. Differences between our results and those reported elsewhere are best explained in terms of differences in task demands.
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