Human Sentence Processing

Barbara Hemforth and Lars Konieczny
Section: Language and Computation
Level: Introductory


As the importance of performance issues in parsing has been increasing during the last few years, cognitive models of sentence processing are becoming more than just an important source of inspiration for computational linguistics. The course addresses current topics in human sentence processing; the phenomena to be accounted for include lexical, syntactic, and semantic ambiguity resolution, complexity in unambiguous sentences, and reanalysis. At the level of modelling, issues such as parsing strategies, heuristics, incrementality, underspecification, description-based parsing, determinism, parallelism, resource limitations, adaptiveness, etc. will be adressed for all levels of interpretation.

Course Outline

Sessions 1-2: Dimensions of human parsing models and research methods.

We provide in introduction to experimental techniques for the study of human sentence processing. Furthermore, we will give an overview of contemporary approaches to human sentence processing focussing on the following topics: serialism, parallelism, determinism, underspecification, minimal commitment parsing; architectural vs. transparency-based approaches; computational resources and adaptiveness; lexicalisation, head-driven parsing, incrementality; modularity and interaction.

Session 3: Selected approaches in human sentence processing.

We will pick some of the currently most influencial approaches and discuss them in more detail. How does a model fit to what is known about the general cognitive architecture? What is its rationale? How well do the predictions meet recent empirical data?

Session 4: Universality of parsing heuristics.

A research question currently dominating psycholinguistic studies of human sentence processing refers to the origin of parsing heuristics. We will adress the question of language specific heuristics largely based on cross-linguistic evidence on modifier attachment, the acqusition of heuristics in early childhood, and individual differences.

Session 5: Semantic Interpretation: Anaphor resolution and interpretation of quantifiers.

In this session, the modifier attachment approach outlined in session 4 will be generalized towards a theory of human parsing and anaphor resolution. Anaphoric aspects of argument binding as well as discourse processing will be highlighted and put forth in a general account of ambiguity resolution. The role of structural constraints as well as background knowledge will be highlighted with respect to psycholinguistic evidence on quantifier interpretation.


Hemforth, B., & Konieczny, L. (2000). German sentence processing. Dordrecht, NL: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


Center for Cognitive Science,
Institute of Computer Science and Social Research,
University of Freiburg
Friedrichstr. 50
79098 Freiburg, Germany
phone: +49 761 203-4942
fax: -4938