The Wind Chilled the Spectators, but the Wine Just Chilled: Sense, Structure, and Sentence Comprehension

Cognitive Science 33 (4):610-628 (2009)
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Abstract

Anticipation plays a role in language comprehension. In this article, we explore the extent to which verb sense influences expectations about upcoming structure. We focus on change of state verbs like shatter, which have different senses that are expressed in either transitive or intransitive structures, depending on the sense that is used. In two experiments we influence the interpretation of verb sense by manipulating the thematic fit of the grammatical subject as cause or affected entity for the verb, and test whether readers’ expectations for a transitive or intransitive structure change as a result. This sense‐biasing context influenced reading times in the postverbal regions. Reading times for transitive sentences were faster following good‐cause than good‐theme subjects, but the opposite pattern was found for intransitive sentences. We conclude that readers use sense‐contingent subcategorization preferences during on‐line comprehension.

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