The Influence of Focus Alternative Sets on Memory for Text


  • Wind Cowles University of Florida
  • Michelle Perdomo University of Florida


This paper presents a psycholinguistic experiment testing the hypothesis that focus al-ternatives are activated during focus processing and remain associated with memory representa-tions of focus referents. Research participants read short passages that used wh-questions and it-cleft structures to mark narrow focus and introduced small, two-entity contrast sets. Participants then judged whether a paraphrase of the sentence containing the focus-marked referent was accu-rate. Overall accuracy for this judgment was high (91%) when the paraphrase was true or when the focus referent was substituted with a referent that was not part of the contrast set. Accuracy was significantly lower (77.5%) when the focus was substituted with the alternative from the contrast set. These results support theoretical and processing proposals that focus interpretation involves processing of contrast alternatives, and further shows these alternatives may not be effectively suppressed in memory for focus.