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.