The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 2/24 - Mora Maldonado

Speaker: Mora Maldonado (ENS-MIT)
Time: Wednesday, February 24, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Understanding plural ambiguities. An experimental perspective.
(Joint work with Emmanuel Chemla and Benjamin Spector)

Sentences that involve plural expressions, such as numerical expressions, give rise to systematic ambiguities. For example, the sentence Two boys have three balloons can either mean that there are two boys who, between them, have three balloons (cumulative reading) or that there are two boys who each have three balloons (distributive reading).

In this set of studies, we explore the online comprehension of plural ambiguous sentences using both a mouse-tracking and a priming paradigm. While priming effects help us detecting the representations involved in the derivation of different readings, mouse-paths inform us not only about the preference of particular interpretations, but also about whether the derivation of one reading is a necessary step for the derivation of the other.

Overall, our findings suggest that (i) abstract semantic representations corresponding to different readings of plurals can give rise to priming effects; and (ii) primitive readings of plural ambiguous sentences are processed automatically, even when alternative representations are later selected.