The time-course of contextual modulation for underspecified meaning
An eye-movement study
Sentences like (1) “The singer began the album” are ambiguous between an agentive reading (The singer began recording/playing/etc. the album) and a constitutive reading (The singer’s song was the first track). The ambiguity is rooted in the meaning specification of the aspectual-verb class, which demands its complement be construed as a structured individual along a dimension (e.g., spatial, informational, eventive). In (1), the complement can be construed as a set of eventualities (eventive) or musical content (informational). Processing aspectual-verb sentences is shown to involve (a) exhaustive lexical-function retrieval and (b) construal of multiple dimension-specific structured individuals, leading to multiple compositions with agentive and constitutive readings. The ultimate interpretation depends on the biased dimensions in context. Our eye-tracking study comparing sentences in different contexts (agentive vs. constitutive-biasing) shows not only the aspectual-verb composition effect, previously reported for the agentive readings, but also a comparable processing profile for the constitutive readings, a novel finding supporting the unified linguistic analysis and processing implementation of the two readings. Regardless of reading, the composition effect is observable even after the complement has been retrieved, indicating that the fundamental lexico-semantic compositional processes must take place before context can serve as a constraining force.
- The current study
- Apparatus & procedures
- Data analysis
- The processing cost of aspectual verb composition (> controls)
- No immediate effect of biasing context