Performance structures: A psycholinguistic and linguistic appraisal

James Gee, François Grosjean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

235 Scopus citations


Two lines of research-one in psycholinguistics and one in linguistics-are combined to deal with a long-standing problem in both fields: why the "performance structures" of sentences (structures based on experimental data, such as pausing and parsing values) are not fully accountable for by linguistic theories of phrase structure. Two psycholinguistic algorithms that have been used to predict these structures are described and their limitations are examined. A third algorithm, based on the prosodic structures of sentences is then proposed and shown to be a far better predictor of performance structures. It is argued that the experimental data reflect aspects of the linguistic cognitive capacity, and that, in turn, linguistic theory can offer an illuminating account of the data. The prosodic model is shown to have a wider domain of application than temporal organization per se, accounting for parsing judgments as well as pausing performance, and reflecting aspects of syntactic and semantic structure as well as purely prosodic structure. Finally, the algorithm is discussed in light of language processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-458
Number of pages48
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1983
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language

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