Complement coercion is not modulated by competition: Evidence from eye movements

Steven Frisson, Brian McElree
2008 Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory and Cognition  
An eye-movement monitoring study examined the processing of expressions thought to require complement coercion (Pustejovsky, 1995) , in which a noun phrase that does not denote an event (e.g., the book) appears as the complement of an event-selecting verb (e.g., ...began the book). Several studies have demonstrated that these expressions are more costly to process than various control expressions that can be processed with basic compositional operations (Pylkkänen & McElree, 2006) . Expressions
more » ... 2006) . Expressions requiring complement coercion are thought to be costly to interpret because they require the comprehender to construct an event sense of the complement to satisfy the semantic restrictions of the verb (e.g., ...began writing the book). The reported experiment tests the alternative hypotheses that the cost arises from the need to select one interpretation from several or from competition between alternative interpretations. Expressions with weakly constrained interpretations (no dominant interpretation and several alternative interpretations) were not more costly to process than expressions with a strongly constrained interpretation (one dominant interpretation and few alternative interpretations), and the coercion cost was not correlated with either dominance or the number of alternative interpretations. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the cost reflects the on-line construction of an event sense for the complement, and they are inconsistent with alternative explanations of this effect. Complement Coercion 3 The meaning of many expressions in natural language can be constructed by applying a small set of basic compositional operations (Jackendoff, 2002; Pylkkänen & McElree, 2006) . However, some expressions contain semantically mismatching elements that appear to block the application of these basic operations, and which seem to require more elaborate operations to repair the mismatch. Coercion is thought to be one type of operation that comprehenders can use to repair semantically mismatching elements in an expression (see Pylkkänen & McElree, 2006) . Complement coercion is argued to be required when a verb requiring an eventdenoting complement is paired with a non-event-denoting complement (Jackendoff, 1997 (Jackendoff, , 2002 Pustejovsky, 1995) . The sentences in (1)-(3) illustrate the paradigm: 1. The man began/finished the hike. 2. The man began/finished reading the book. The man began/finished the book. Aspectual verbs such as begin and finish are prototypical examples of verbs that semantically require a complement that denotes an event, either a noun phrase, such as the hike in (1), or a verb phrase, such as reading the book in (2). The eventdenoting complement semantically combines with the verb to form a predicate denoting the initial or final part of the denoted event. Interestingly, however, a similar interpretation results if the verb is paired with a non-event-denoting complement, such as the simple noun phrase the book in (3). Indeed, if asked to indicate the meaning of (3), comprehenders will indicate that it has the same interpretation as (2) (McElree, Complement Coercion 4
doi:10.1037/0278-7393.34.1.1 pmid:18194051 fatcat:lwudhatzpbg2xjhexpvspaovbe