Construal presents a new theory of sentence processing, one that allows a limited type of underspecification in the syntactic analysis of sentences. It extends what has arguably been the dominant theory of parsing (the garden-path theory developed by Lyn Frazier and colleagues) through the 1980s into new and previously unexplored domains, and greatly advances the potential for insights into how meaning is both made and understood. Frazier and Clifton, both pioneers in parsing theory, present new psycholinguistic theory and experimentation concerning how "nonprimary" phrases are analyzed in sentence comprehension. They define a process of "construal" and show how it accounts for cases in which the parser does not fully determine structure during the course of ordinary comprehension. The idea of construal arises in part through the authors' critical review of the challenges to their established framework for research on structural parsing. While they demonstrate that the principles of parsing theory remain valid for a wide variety of languages and grammatical constructions, they go beyond them to clearly identify those types of constructions built by the process of construal.
Frazier and Clifton show that construal follows distinct principles, and they flesh out their hypothesis with previously unexamined evidence and new empirical tests.
Part 1 Introduction: orientation to parsing; the garden path theory of human sentence processing; in defense of the garden path model. Part 2 The construal hypothesis: relative clause attachment - the initial construal hypothesis; other structures subject to construal; summary and general proposal. Part 3 Attachment versus association - adverbial clauses: attachment versus construal - adverbial attachment sites within a processing domain versus in different domains; experiment 1; questionnaire study - effects of length on interpretation; other studies of adverbials. Part 4 Association and thematic domains - relative clauses: construal of relative clauses; on-line evidence about relative clause attachment; association of semantically obligatory constituents; other work on relative clauses. Part 5 Directionality, (non)finality and adjacency - extraposed relative clauses: nonfinal adjuncts; directionality; extraposition from NP; summary and implications. Part 6 Indirect subject-predicate binding - adjunct predication: searching for garden paths; indirect binding. Part 7 Empty categories and extended domains - adjunct extraction: the grammar of adjunct extraction; analyzing an adjunct phrase; reading biased adjunct questions; interpretive preferences; association of the postulation of traces. Part 8 Conclusions: on the relation of structure and interpretation; relations to previous research; questions for further research; relations to other proposals; why construal, revisited.