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Sentence, phrase and pivotal word recall as related to sentence complexity, response mode, and practice Mitchell, Diana Lee


The effects on sentence, phrase, and pivotal word recall of variations in mean depth, type, and length of sentences, response mode, and practice were studied with one hundred twenty-eight Grade Eleven students. The results provide substantial support for Martin and Roberts' (1966) listening-reproducing model of sentence processing. Verbatim recall of low mean depth sentences exceeded that of high mean depth sentences; pivotal words from phrases of the greatest mean depth were harder to recall than were their lower mean depth counterparts; and the analysis of phrase dependency measures indicated that left-to-right binary processing was taking place during the encoding and decoding of responses. In addition, the results provided partial confirmation of the notion of coding by transformational tags. Verbatim sentence recall was affected by the stimulus sentence's transformational type, but not in the predicted direction. Errors in sentence recall, however, were as was predicted: K > N, P, Q > NP, NQ, PQ > NPQ. Further, declarative sentences were recalled correctly more often than were interrogative, as was predicted from the coding hypothesis, but active and passive sentences were equally well recalled, and negative sentences were recalled better than affirmative sentences, neither of which result can be accounted for by the coding hypothesis. Mood, voice, and modality changes were found to have various effects on the recall of phrases and pivotal items, but often these effects were related to the lexical density of specific phrases. Pivotal words were observed to have performed an important function in early recall particularly, and this function was explained in terms of the memory for "gist" hypothesis (Reid, 1974). Sentence length interacted with mean depth and lexical density, a result which was felt to be an artifact resulting from incomplete orthogonality of these variables. The written response mode facilitated recall generally, as did practice, with practice resulting most noticeably in improved recall of all pivotal words, and of low mean depth and long sentences which were written rather than spoken.

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