Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Eva M. Fernandez

Subject Categories



Agreement; L2 sentence processing; Prosody; Psycholinguistics; Reading; Relative clauses


This dissertation focuses on structural and prosodic effects during reading, examining their influence on agreement processing and comprehension in native English (L1) and Spanish-English bilingual (L2) speakers. I consolidate research from three distinct areas of inquiry'cognitive processing models, development of reading fluency, and L1/L2 processing strategies'and outline a cohesive and comprehensive processing model that can be applied to speakers regardless of language profile. This model is characterized by three critical components: a cognitive model of memory retrieval, a processing paradigm that outlines how resources may be deployed online, and the role of factors such as prosody in parsing decisions.

The general framework of this integrated 'Good-enough Cue' (GC) model assumes the 'Good-Enough' Hypothesis and cue-based memory retrieval as central aspects. The 'Good-Enough' Hypothesis states that all speakers have access to two processing routes: a complete syntactic route, and a 'good enough' heuristic route (Ferreira, Bailey, & Ferraro, 2002; Ferreira, 2003). In the interest of conserving resources, speakers tend to rely more on heuristics and templates whenever the task allows, and may be required to rely on this fallback route when task demand is high. In the proposed GC model, cue-based memory retrieval (CBMR) is the instantiation of the complete syntactic route for agreement and long-distance dependencies in particular (Lewis & Vasishth, 2005; Wagers, Lau, & Phillips, 2009; Wagers, 2008). When retrieval fails using CBMR (due to cue overlap, memory trace decay, or some other factor), comprehenders may compensate by applying a 'good-enough' processing heuristic, which prioritizes general comprehension over detailed syntactic computation. Prosody (or implicit prosody) may reduce processing load by either facilitating syntactic processing or otherwise assisting memory retrieval, thus reducing reliance on the good-enough fallback route. This investigation explores how text presentation format interacts with these algorithmic versus heuristic processing strategies. Most specifically, measuring whether the presentation format of text affects readers' comprehension and ability to detect subject-verb agreement errors in simple and complex relative clause constructions.

The experimental design manipulated text presentation to influence implicit prosody, using sentences designed to induce subject-verb agreement attraction errors. Materials included simple and embedded relative clauses with head nouns and verbs that were either matched or mismatched for number. Participants read items in one of three presentation formats: a) whole sentence, b) word-by-word, or b) phrase-by-phrase, and rated each item for grammaticality and responded to a comprehension probe.

Results indicate that while overall comprehension is typically prioritized over grammatical processing (following the 'Good-Enough' Hypothesis), the effects of presentation format are differentially influential based on group differences and processing measure. For the L1 participants, facilitating the projection of phrasal prosody (phrase-by-phrase presentation) onto text enhances performance in syntactic and grammatical processing, while disrupting it via a word-by-word presentation decreases comprehension accuracy. For the L2 participants however, phrase-by-phrase presentation is not significantly beneficial for grammatical processing'even resulting in a decrease in comprehension accuracy. These differences provide insight into the interaction of cognitive taskload, processing strategy selection, and the role of implicit prosody in reading fluency, building toward a comprehensive processing model for speakers of varying language profiles and proficiencies.

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