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Typographic emphasis and contrastive focus: an eye tracking study

Norton, Christopher William (2018) Typographic emphasis and contrastive focus: an eye tracking study. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Two eye tracking experiments investigated whether italicising contrastively focused words facilitates processing. In speech, pitch accents can mark focus, signalling that there exist alternatives to the marked element which are relevant to interpreting the expression. In writing, typographic emphasis (italics, bold, etc.) can be used in a similar manner, particularly to mark contrastive focus (asterisks delimit italicisation here): ‘We expected Mark to bring *Mary* to dinner. However, when he arrived, he was with *Ellen*.’ Previous studies have shown that processing is facilitated by congruent marking of information structure with pitch accents, and impeded by incongruent marking. This study sought similar effects for typographic emphasis. Eye movements of participants were tracked as they read short texts (dialogues in Experiment 1, narratives in Experiment 2) in which a contrastively focused target word was italicised, or not. Experiment 2 also manipulated contrast on the target word. To the author’s knowledge, this is the first eye tracking study that investigates the interaction of these factors within continuous text. Incongruence, where a non-contrastive word was typographically emphasised, or a contrastive word was not emphasised, was predicted to cause processing difficulty manifesting as re-reading. Results did not suggest that incongruence had a processing cost, although some effects were found, including (amongst more subtle effects) longer overall fixations on target words, and higher likelihoods of them being fixated at all. These results are discussed from several perspectives, including a ‘zero-impact’ account, which holds there to be no linguistic effect of typographic emphasis, and a more probable ‘effects elsewhere’ account, which suggests the type of re-reading examined here may not have been the correct place to look. The possibility that the visual contrast inherent in typographic emphasis may simply ‘catch the eye’ rather than have a linguistic effect is also investigated, and assessed as being unlikely.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: typographic emphasis, italics, typography, contrastive focus, information structure, language processing, eye tracking, reading, psycholinguistics
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Languages Cultures and Societies (Leeds) > Linguistics & Phonetics (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.759782
Depositing User: Christopher William Norton
Date Deposited: 27 Nov 2018 12:57
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2020 12:32
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/22135

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