A blog about any and all things linguistic. Topics can range from phonetics to syntax to aspects of specific languages. Updated weekly.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Garden path sentences
I came across a headline recently that momentarily stumped me: "Judge accused of sex crimes impeached". This was because I automatically parsed this as "a certain judge has been accused of sex crimes", but then I came across "impeached" and had to fit it in somewhere". This happened because I initially interpreted "accused of sex crimes" as a verb phrase, whereas semantically it functions as a relative clause modifying "judge". These types of sentences, where we assign an initial interpretation and then have to revise it when we get to the end, are often referred to as "garden path" sentences, because we get led down a figurative garden path before getting to the actual meaning. A classic oft-repeated example is "The horse raced past the barn fell". Can't make sense of it? Try "The horse that was raced past the barn fell". (This doesn't work for everyone, because for some people racing a horse past a barn just doesn't feel right semantico-syntactically.) We initially think this is going to be just "The horse raced past the barn", with racing as the action the horse is performing, but when we get to the end we realize that actually the horse is falling, not racing, and "raced past the barn" is a relative clause modifying "the horse".
I live in New Brunswick, NJ with my wife Amanda, and am currently a 3rd year linguistics Ph.D. student at Rutgers. My research interests include phonetics, phonology, Optimality Theory, Native American languages (esp. Na-Dene and Algonquian), loanword adaptation, and syllable structure. Send comments/suggestions/questions to:
rdenzerk at eden.rutgers.edu