Seminar Series

Enriched compositional processes in language comprehension

Language comprehension consists of several operations ranging from the identification of individual words to the construction of a suitable interpretation for a complete text or utterance. Although much progress has been made in understanding different facets of this system, little is known about semantic composition, that is, how a contextually suitable interpretation for an expression is derived from the products of lexical and syntactic analyses. A traditional view of composition holds that properties retrieved from the lexicon are simply combined in a manner that is informed by syntactic structure. However, recent formal analyses of common and seemingly simple expressions suggest that a substantially more complex mechanism is needed to compute contextually appropriate interpretations. Compositional processes can modify the default interpretations of individual constituents and introduce semantic content not explicitly represented in the sentence or discourse. I will present recent studies of on-line sentence processing that contrast simple and enriched forms of composition and that isolate the cognitive operations involved in enriched composition.