The focus sensitive element "sogar"

Does the procedural meaning of "sogar" help listeners to accelerate the comprehension of a semantic scale?

In order to guide the inferential processes in communication, languages use different mechanisms. Focus particles are one of these mechanisms because of their mainly procedural meaning focalizing the hearer's attention and guiding him to certain constituents (Blakemore 2002). Furthermore, focus sensitive elements relate the focus and its alternatives in a certain way. Scalar particles like German "sogar" do so in establishing a relation of likelihood presenting the focused element as the least expected element (König 1991).

Here we use the visual world paradigm (Cooper 1974) to study the time course of the interpretation of German "sogar", in particular the unfolding of its procedural meaning under several experimental conditions. We manipulate three factors: (A) presence or absence of the focus sensitive element, (B) scale, which could either be derived from world knowledge, or was imposed by "sogar", and (C) the number of elements the scale consists of. Participants are presented with visual and auditory stimuli simultaneously. The visual stimuli consist of pictures showing four objects, of which one always serves as the target and (at least) one as distractor. The auditory stimuli are spoken sentences recorded by a native German speaker that either include the focus sensitive element, or not.

Sentences are carefully matched for length using PRAAT. To familiarize the participants with the location of the objects on the screen visual stimuli are always shown for 2000 ms before each trial during a preview phase. To test a potential early impact of "sogar" we compare the proportion and onset of looks towards the visual object that corresponds to the last element of each test sentence, which was either preceded by "sogar" (critical condition) or by an adjective (control condition). For example, while on the computer screen participants see pictures showing a car, a motorbike, an airplane (target) and a bicycle (distractor), they heard "Jim fixes cars, motorbikes, and even/old airplanes." To test a potential late effect of the procedural meaning of the focus particle we also compare the proportion and onset of looks toward all other objects on the screen except the one that was focused in the sentence participants hear in a phase of silence that follows the test sentences.

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