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Title: Subject animacy and underspecified meaning: The conceptual and cortical underpinnings
Authors: 賴瑶鍈
Lai, Yao-Ying
Lacadie, Cheryl
Deo, Ashwini
Piñango, Maria Mercedes
Contributors: 語言所
Keywords: Meaning underspecification;Animacy;Sentence processing;Aspectual verbs;Semantic ambiguity;Concept composition
Date: 2020-11
Issue Date: 2020-07-15 14:54:22 (UTC+8)
Abstract: We examine the distinction between animacy, a conceptual property, and agency, a conceptual and linguistic property involved in semantic role assignment. Are these two notions—agency and animacy—interchangeable in the mind/brain of the comprehender or are they distinct yet correlated? If the latter, does brain behavior show sensitivity to this distinction? Through a self-paced reading and an fMRI experiment we investigate the comprehension of sentences containing aspectual verbs (e.g., begin, finish) in composition with animate vs. inanimate-denoting subjects (e.g., The noblewoman/prologue began the book). Aspectual-verb sentences are ambiguous independently of subject denotation: whereas sentences with inanimate subjects engender a constitutive/subpart reading along one of multiple possible dimensions (e.g., the spatial vs. informational construal of the book), sentences with animate-denoting subjects can also engender a constitutive/subpart reading along one of several possible dimensions, (The story about) the noblewoman began the book (informational dimension), in addition to the agentive reading along the eventive dimension, The noblewoman began (doing something with) the book. So, both animate and inanimate subject-denotations can license the construal of the complement as a structured individual along mutually-exclusive conceptual dimensions (spatial, informational, eventive, etc.). During real-time comprehension such a situation calls for ambiguity resolution, and therefore computational cost, to settle on one interpretation. Therein lies the relevance of this construction: the final reading of the sentence depends on whether or not the subject can be interpreted as agentive independent of animacy. Results show that controlling for animacy, all aspectual-verb sentences (1) engender longer reading times, consistent with shared increased compositional cost and (2) exhibit overlapping cortical activity: left angular gyrus and left inferior frontal gyrus, consistent with the distinction between concept composition on the one hand, and ambiguity resolution processes on the other. This converging behavioral and neurological pattern thus suggests that sentence interpretation need not be determined by perception of animacy per se but by a more fundamental conceptual parameter that has, as by-product, agency but that more locally results from the control relationship between two participants of the situation denoted by the sentence. Finally, (3) sentences with animate-denoting subjects (> inanimate-subject counterparts) additionally recruited the posterior cortex; an activation pattern consistent with the construal of animate-denoting individuals as “default” controllers in the agentive reading. This suggests in turn a de-coupling of animacy and agency such that the former is an entity-level attribution that supports but does not determine an eventive interpretation, and the latter is the output of a control asymmetry evaluation in an eventive representation connecting two otherwise independent entities. Altogether, the findings are consistent with a neurocognitive model of sentence semantic comprehension whereby meaning construal and composition are carried out within a parametrized conceptual space that is only secondarily modulated by independent conceptual
Relation: Journal of Neurolinguistics, No.56, pp.1-20
Data Type: article
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