February 26, 2013

Guest Speaker: Meg Grant (Feb. 28/2013)

Speaker: Meg Grant

Title: "Subset comparatives require more than (just) world knowledge"

Time: Thursday, February 28, 2:30 pm

Place: Sid Smith 1086


Comprehending a comparative construction like (1) requires the reader or listener to represent two sets of entities in mind and establish an ordered relationship between the cardinalities of these sets.

(1) More men than women came to the party.

The sets under comparison in examples like (1) are often understood to be disjoint, based on the conceptual or world knowledge of the comprehender. However, this is not always the case. In this talk, I will present an investigation of the process by which readers establish relationships between sets in comparatives during on-line sentence processing. To address this issue, I will present the results of studies of eye movements during the reading of a previously unstudied type of comparative, which I call subset comparatives. Subset comparatives are comparatives in which the two sets are understood to be in a (proper) subset relationship, such as (2).

(2) More birds than eagles flew over the conservation area.

Based on the results of these studies, I will argue that what is critical in the initial processing of comparatives is the expectation that the sets compared will be disjoint (the Contrast Preference Hypothesis). It is this disjointness assumption, rather than a bottom-up identification process based on lexical, conceptual or world knowledge, that determines how readers initially analyze the input. The examination of subset comparatives opens up a new empirical domain for examining preferences and default interpretations of relationships between sets in sentence processing, and also presents new questions for the theory of the syntactic and semantic representation of comparative constructions.

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