The Old and Thee, uh, New: Disfluency and Reference Resolution

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Psychological Science, Volume 15, Number 9, p.578-582 (2004)




Most research on the rapid mental processes of online language processing has been limited to the study of idealized, fluent utterances. Yet speakers are often disfluent, for example, saying "thee, uh, candle" instead of "the candle." By monitoring listeners' eye movements to objects in a display, we demonstrated that the fluency of an article ("thee uh" vs. "the") affects how listeners interpret the following noun. With a fluent article, listeners were biased toward an object that had been mentioned previously, but with a disfluent article, they were biased toward an object that had not been mentioned. These biases were apparent as early as lexical information became available, showing that disfluency affects the basic processes of decoding linguistic input.