THE ON-LINE PROCESSING OF ASPECTUAL COERCION: SOME PSYCHOLINGUISTIC CONSIDERATIONS

DeVelle, Sacha Leigh (2007). THE ON-LINE PROCESSING OF ASPECTUAL COERCION: SOME PSYCHOLINGUISTIC CONSIDERATIONS PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, University of Queensland.

       
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Author DeVelle, Sacha Leigh
Thesis Title THE ON-LINE PROCESSING OF ASPECTUAL COERCION: SOME PSYCHOLINGUISTIC CONSIDERATIONS
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2007
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Michael Harrington
Abstract/Summary There is much we do not understand about the relationship between linguistic expressions and their cognitive functions. The mechanisms that underlie aspectual coercion are no exception. Aspectual coercion describes the interpretive effects that follow the realignment of temporal semantic mismatches between the verb and an external modifier. It is assumed that the reinterpretation of sentential information is dependent upon an extra-linguistic process absent from surface level structure. Attempts to account for this effect have focused on the aspectual characteristics of the verb and how these features interact with temporal modifiers. Prominent among these is Jackendoff's enriched compositional hypothesis (1997, 2002, 2003) that posits a two-step coercion process consisting of the temporal alignment of sentence level semantic features, followed by the insertion of conceptual (CS) structure. Such insertion is a necessary prerequisite for the coercion process that distinguishes simple (e.g., The light shone for an hour/until dawn) and enriched composition (e.g., The light flashed for an hour/until dawn) respectively. This dissertation examines the effects of punctual verbs externally modified by the adverbials for and until. It is particularly concerned with the on-line coercion effects for sentences that contain point action verbs (e.g., flash) and an achievement sub-class known as change in a state of affairs (CSA) verbs (e.g., borrow). The processing mechanisms that underlie such verbs modified by for and until have particular implications for the enriched compositional hypothesis and the process known as iteration (i.e., The light flashed for an hour/until dawn). This approach predicts that the iterative sense (i.e., multiple flashes) that emerges within such contexts will be the same across both adverbial types. A set of empirical studies presented here shows results that are partially compatible with this assumption. The enriched composition hypothesis does not, however, address CSA verb/modifier sentence combinations (e.g., The student borrowed the book for a week/until it was recalled). The present results for those sentences showed significantly longer processing on CSA verb/for combinations. This finding is attributed to aspectual verb switching, triggered by the adverbial for and the following insertion of CS that reflects an extended process (e.g., The student borrowed the book to read for a week). The studies presented here identify theoretical and empirical gaps for the enriched compositional hypothesis in terms of what characterizes sentence-level coercion shifts. The on-line processing implications that emerge for aspectual coercion show that the temporal semantic features pertinent to a verb type [atelic/telic] [durative/punctual] [homogenous/ heterogeneous] and modifier type [durational/bounded] contribute to linguistic and cognitive sentence-level interpretation. The type of coercion appears to depend upon both the temporal semantic feature of the verb and durative modification. Point action verbs are temporally [punctual], [atelic] and [homogeneous]. Such verb types lack internal structure and so rely on the [bounded] [durational] features of for and until to trigger an iterative effect. Access to CS supplies this sense of repetition. CSA verbs in contrast are also temporally [punctual] and [atelic], but encode a [heterogeneous] feature that allows for internal change. In such cases the [durational] feature of for selects for a process reading. This selection is dependent upon the available [heterogeneous] feature that internally switches the verb from an achievement to an extended process (i.e., an accomplishment reading). The insertion of such a process is extra-linguistic and thus accessed via CS in a manner similar to iteration. This effect does not emerge with until (i.e., The student borrowed the book until it was recalled) due to its [bounded] feature that places an inherent end upon the verb and consequent overall sentence level interpretation (i.e., the subsequent return of the book). In sum, the present studies refine and extend upon the assumptions made by the enriched compositional hypothesis. The overall findings further support a common theoretical argument advocated in lexical semantics, namely that the internal structure of a verb contributes to linguistic and cognitive sentence-level functions.

 
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