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Enrichment without coercion

Dr. Roberto de Almeida

Thursday, December 08, 2011, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Concordia University, Department of Psychology

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In linguistics, psycholinguistics, and cognitive neuroscience, it is almost a consensus that understanding a putatively indeterminate sentence such as "The man began a book" entails a process by which the nominal complement is "coerced" into an activity or that there is some form of interpolation in semantic composition, thus licensing an interpretation such as "The man began reading a book". Most studies have suggested that this process relies to a large extent on the information contained in the lexical representation for "book" which provides the filler event to yield an enriched semantic composition. In this talk I will argue against this view. I will show that psycholinguistic evidence for coercion is slim; that coercion effects stemming from psycholinguistic studies (e.g., longer reading times for "coerced" constructions) do not constitute evidence for lexical-semantic coercion; and that linguistic analysis of indeterminate sentences can account for much of the coercion effects in terms of structurally-determined positions which might serve as triggers for pragmatic enrichment. I will discuss psycholinguistic and fMRI experiments suggesting that attempts to resolve indeterminacy rely on pragmatic rather than on lexical-semantic decompositional processes.

Dr. Roberto de Almeida