Grammar and discourse prominence: The effects of grammatical status and focus on change blindness in written Danish

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The distinction between grammatical and lexical items is a cornerstone in linguistic theory. In a recent, usage-based theory, Boye & Harder (2012) accounts for this distinction in terms of discourse prominence: grammatical items are by convention discursively secondary (background), while lexical items have the potential of being primary (foreground). The present paper tests psycholinguistic implications of this theory. It was hypothesized 1) focalized, primary items receive more attention than non-focalized, secondary ones, and thus – in accordance with Boye & Harder (2012) – 2) that lexical items receive more attention than grammatical ones. These hypotheses were tested in a reading experiment which employed the change blindness paradigm (Rensink et al. 1997). 32 adult speakers of Danish read 40 target sentences (and ten filler sentences). Each sentence was presented twice to each participant – for the second presentation, which occurred a few seconds after the first presentation, a target word in the sentence was omitted. The participants were instructed to report whether they had noticed any differences between the two versions. The stimuli were constructed using a 2x2 design, contrasting 1) focal and non-focal items as well as 2) lexical and grammatical ones. Focalization was manipulated by means of Danish focus particles like også (‘also’) and præcis (‘excactly’); lexical and grammatical items were distinguished in accordance with the diagnostic tests given in Boye & Harder (2012). The results of this experiment support hypothesis 1, but not 2: participants exhibited a significantly greater (>.001) change blindness towards grammatical items than towards lexical items, while there was no significant difference between focalized and non-focalized items. This suggest that at least in Danish, the lexicon-grammar contrast is a more important cue to discourse prominence (foreground vs. background status) than focalization (by means of focus particles). BOYE, K. & HARDER, P. 2012. A usage-based theory of grammatical status and grammaticalization. Language, 88, 1-44. RENSINK, R. A., O'REGAN, J. K. & CLARK, J. J. 1997. To see or not to see: The need for attention to perceive changes in scenes. Psychological Science, 8, 368-373.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date29 Jul 2014
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2014
Event5th UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference - University of Lancaster, Lancaster, United Kingdom
Duration: 29 Jul 201431 Jul 2014


Conference5th UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference
LocationUniversity of Lancaster
CountryUnited Kingdom

ID: 147620919