The Prosodic Resolution of Syntactic/Semantic Ambiguity: An Exemplar-based Account

Hyunah Ahn 1 ,
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1Seoul National University
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ⓒ Copyright 2017 Language Education Institute, Seoul National University. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Oct 31, 2017 ; Revised: Dec 09, 2017 ; Accepted: Dec 13, 2017

Published Online: Dec 31, 2017


This study tests the hypothesis that the ambiguity of a null argument construction in Korean like Lwummeituka mwusewun ka poayo (The roommate must be scared/scary) can be prosodically resolved. The null argument construction is tested with two-place psychological predicates such as mwusewun (scared/scary) and kwichanun (bothered/bothersome). A naturalness rating experiment shows the following: (1) when the NP Lwummeituka is the experiencer of the psychological predicate scare and the sentence means ‘The roommate must be scared,’ both an Accentual Phrase (AP) boundary and an Intonational Phrase (IP) boundary are equally accepted between the NP and the VP; (2) when the NP is the stimulus (The roommate must be scary), only an AP boundary is perceived natural. Reaction time and comprehension question accuracy data further display the role played by prosody in ambiguity resolution. The results are discussed within the exemplar framework.

Keywords: Thematic roles; prosodic disambiguation; exemplar-based language processing; double nominative construction; psychological predicates