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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Brian Dillon

Second Advisor

John Kingston

Third Advisor

Adrian Staub

Subject Categories

Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics


This dissertation addresses the relationship between hierarchical syntactic structure and memory in language processing of individual sentences. Hierarchical syntactic structure is a key part of human languages and language processing but its integration with memory has been uneasy ever since Sachs (1967) demonstrated that the syntactic structure of individual sentences is lost in explicit sentence recall tasks much faster than other linguistic information (lexical, semantic, etc.). Nonetheless, psycholinguists have continued to draw on memory in syntactic processing theories, in part due to (i) the explanatory power that memory can give to sentence processing hypotheses, and (ii) the conflicting results that continually replicate the basic findings of Sachs (1967, 1974) while on the other hand supporting robust, long-term implicit persistence of syntactic structure in the form of abstract syntactic priming.

The dissertation provides three case studies on syntactic structure in memory at three different time points over the course of processing. One case-study revisits syntactic persistence during the timescale which has classically provided the bulk of the evidence against syntactic structure in memory, from late in online processing to early offline processing, using a comparison of ellipsis-antecedent resolution and recognition memory over time. A second case-study looks at the sensitivity of proposed memory-operations to subject-verb agreement versus reflexive anaphora at the earliest timescale, during online sentence processing. Finally, the second half of the dissertation focuses on the reliability of abstract syntactic priming in comprehension, with an extended test of Syntactic Adaptation theory (Fine, Jaeger, Farmer, & Qian, 2013).

The dissertation argues that while there is still some good evidence in favor of syntactic structure in memory, theories which intend to control most of online sentence processing from memory are probably premature. Even if memory does turn out to play a role in the syntactic processing of individual sentences, domain general, declarative memory is most likely an insufficient architecture to capture even the data which is most supportive of a memory-based account.


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