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What's new? Acquiring New information as a process in comprehension

Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0022-5371(74)80003-4


Linguistically, sentences contain both Given information (what the listener is expected to know already) and New information (what the listener is not expected to know already). According to a proposed Given-New Strategy, the listener, in comprehending a sentence, first searches memory for antecedent information that matches the sentence's Given information; he then revises memory by attaching the New information to that antecedent. To provide evidence for this strategy, we presented subjects with pairs of sentences, where the first (the context sentence) provided a context for the second (the target sentence). The subjects were required to press a button when they felt they understood the target sentences. Consistnet with the proposed strategy, Experiment I showed that a target sentence with a definite noun phrase presupposing existence took less time to comprehend when its Given information had a direct antecedent in the context sentence than when it did not. Experiment II ruled out a repetition explanation for Experiment I, and Experiment III demonstrated the same phenomenon for target sentences containing the adverbs still, again, too, and either.

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