Schäfer, Lisa; Lemke, Tyll Robin; Drenhaus, Heiner; Reich, Ingo

The Role of UID for the Usage of Verb Phrase Ellipsis: Psycholinguistic Evidence From Length and Context Effects

Frontiers in Psychology, 12, pp. 1672, 2021, ISSN 1664-1078.

We investigate the underexplored question of when speakers make use of the omission phenomenon verb phrase ellipsis (VPE) in English given that the full form is also available to them. We base the interpretation of our results on the well-established information-theoretic Uniform Information Density (UID) hypothesis: Speakers tend to distribute processing effort uniformly across utterances and avoid regions of low information by omitting redundant material through, e.g., VPE. We investigate the length of the omittable VP and its predictability in context as sources of redundancy which lead to larger or deeper regions of low information and an increased pressure to use ellipsis. We use both naturalness rating and self-paced reading studies in order to link naturalness patterns to potential processing difficulties. For the length effects our rating and reading results support a UID account. Surprisingly, we do not find an effect of the context on the naturalness and the processing of VPE. We suggest that our manipulation might have been too weak or not effective to evidence such an effect.