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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01987

Complement Coercion: The Joint Effects of Type and Typicality

  • 1Department of Computational Linguistics, Saarland University, Germany
  • 2Psychology, University of Western Ontario, Canada
  • 3Dipartimento di Filologia, Letteratura e Linguistica, University of Pisa, Italy
  • 4Institut für Maschinelle Sprachverarbeitung, University of Stuttgart, Germany

Complement coercion (begin a book → reading) involves a type clash between an event-selecting verb and an entity-denoting object, triggering a covert event (reading). Two main factors involved in complement coercion have been investigated: the semantic type of the object (event vs. entity), and the typicality of the covert event (the author began a book → writing). In previous research, reading times have been measured at the object. However, the influence of the typicality of the subject-object combination on processing an aspectual verb such as begin has not been studied. Using a self-paced reading study, we manipulated semantic type and subject-object typicality, exploiting German word order to measure reading times at the aspectual verb. These variables interacted at the target verb. We conclude that both type and typicality probabilistically guide expectations about upcoming input. These results are compatible with an expectation-based view of complement coercion and language comprehension more generally in which there is rapid interaction between what is typically viewed as linguistic knowledge, and what is typically viewed as domain general knowledge about how the world works.

Keywords: sentence comprehension, Complement coercion, Thematic fit, Semantic type, expectancy generation

Received: 11 May 2017; Accepted: 30 Oct 2017.

Edited by:

Christoph Scheepers, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Edward M. Husband, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Yao-Ying Lai, Yale University, United States  

Copyright: © 2017 Zarcone, McRae, Lenci and Padó. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Ken McRae, University of Western Ontario, Psychology, London, N6G1Z9, Ontario, Canada, kenm@uwo.ca