Alma Veenstra

Adventures of a psycholinguist

Parallel planning and agreement

on 30 November 2015

We know that speakers make agreement errors when the subject phrase consists of a singular head noun followed by a plural local noun (e.g., the key to the cabinets are missing). It has been suggested that more agreement errors are made when these two mismatching nouns are planned simultaneously before speech onset, compared to when they are planned one-by-one: the singular and plural number features would be active simultaneously and lead to more interference, and thus, to more errors.

We tried to find out whether this statement is true. In a picture description task with eye-tracking, we asked participants to name two sets of pictures: a head noun and a local noun, and complete the sentence with a color adjective. This lead to sentences such as “the apple next to the cars is green.” To make sure agreement errors were made, the head and local nouns differed in number. To make sure that the two nouns were planned in parallel, the pictures were located at such a short distance, that the second picture could be processed while focusing on the first. Of course, there was also a condition in which the pictures were located at a large distance where simultaneous processing was much more difficult. The next step was to make sure that this manipulation indeed affected the planning strategy. We used pictures that were semantically related and unrelated. We predicted to find semantic interference (when speech onsets and gaze durations take longer because it is harder to name two similar pictures, compared to unrelated pictures) in the close condition, and not in the far condition. Then, you can compare the agreement error rates between the parallel and sequential planning conditions.

First of all, agreement errors were made for items in which the head and local noun differed in number (both for singular and plural head nouns). Second, we found semantic interference in the close condition, and not in the far condition. This suggests that we were succesful in creating a parallel and a sequential planning condition. However, the error rates did not differ between those conditions. Parallel planning of mismatching nouns does not seem to increase error rates.

Read the original article:

Veenstra, A., Meyer, A. S., & Acheson, D. J. (2015). Effects of parallel planning on agreement production. Acta psychologica, 162, 29-39.




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