Look before you leap: How enjambment affects the processing of poetry

Ruth Koops van 't Jagt, John Hoeks, Gillis Dorleijn, Petra Hendriks

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    This study describes two eye tracking experiments investigating the processing of poetry with and without enjambments. In Experiment 1, poetic fragments with authentic prospective (syntactically incomplete) or retrospective (syntactically complete) enjambments were investigated; in Experiment 2, enjambments were created - for the purpose of the experiment - from poetry that did not originally contain enjambments. We hypothesized that the layout of the text in poetic fragments would affect the degree to which integrative processes take place: in case of prospective enjambments, the syntactic incompleteness may preclude integration at the end of the line (before going to the next line), whereas retrospective enjambments may cause considerable re-interpretation at the next line. We indeed found significant differences in reading patterns between prose and poetry, poetry with and without enjambment, and poetry with prospective and retrospective enjambment. We interpret these results as favoring a dynamic model of language processing, where the amount and type of integration is determined by syntactic (in)completeness, semantic (in)completeness, but also the physical layout of the text.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3-24
    Number of pages22
    JournalScientific Study of Literature
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • eye tracking, reading, poetry, enjambment

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