Sentence Comprehension

From Language, Speech, and Communication

Sentence Comprehension

The Integration of Habits and Rules

By David Townsend and Thomas G. Bever

Bradford Books





Using sentence comprehension as a case study for all of cognitive science, David Townsend and Thomas Bever offer an integration of two major approaches, the symbolic-computational and the associative-connectionist. The symbolic-computational approach emphasizes the formal manipulation of symbols that underlies creative aspects of language behavior. The associative-connectionist approach captures the intuition that most behaviors consist of accumulated habits. The authors argue that the sentence is the natural level at which associative and symbolic information merge during comprehension.

The authors develop and support an analysis-by-synthesis model that integrates associative and symbolic information in sentence comprehension. This integration resolves problems each approach faces when considered independently. The authors review classic and contemporary symbolic and associative theories of sentence comprehension, and show how recent developments in syntactic theory fit well with the integrated analysis-by-synthesis model. They offer analytic, experimental, and neurological evidence for their model and discuss its implications for broader issues in cognitive science, including the logical necessity of an integration of symbolic and connectionist approaches in the field.

Bradford Books imprint


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262201322 460 pp. | 7 in x 9.25 in


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262700801 460 pp. | 7 in x 9.25 in


  • An ambitious and provocative new look at many of the classic issues in sentence processing. Townsend and Bever integrate a large body of past and current results in a novel 'constraints-first/syntax-last' model, while deftly addressing central debates in the cognitive sciences about the mental status of rules and constraints.

    Michael K. Tanenhaus

    Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester

  • This monograph presents a comprehensive review of current models of sentence comprehension, set within a valuable historical perspective, and a new model that seeks to reconcile the major differences between theories in the field. Researchers and students will find it a valuable and provocative work.

    David Caplan

    Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School