CiC: Composition in Context: Contextual Influences on Processing of Event-Coercion

Principal Investigator:
Dr. Oliver Bott
Universität Tübingen

Salome Dimmer (student)

Project description:
The project composition in context investigates the interaction of contextual information with shifts in meaning during the composition of complex expressions (= coercion). The nature of contextual influences on compositional processes is central for long lasting debates about the architecture of the semantics-pragmatics interface. As a starting point the project will take two alternative views on the nature of this interface: a) a modular account according to which sentence meaning is initially processed in isolation from pragmatic information or b) an interactive account with semantic and pragmatic information percolating into the composition of complex meaning right from the start. Existing experimental research has employed the phenomenon of coercion as the primary tool to study the online processing of compositional processes with great success, but so far the role of contextual information has been largely ignored. Building on our existing work on coercion phenomena, we study interactions between the sentence and the larger discourse context in four lines of study. Firstly, we investigate aspectual enrichment during the composition of complex event representations to find out whether information from the preceding discourse context can immediately be combined with information from the sentence. Secondly, we study cases of aspectual impoverishment in which information in the sentence requires a reinterpretation of the event representation that has been built up for the preceding discourse context. Thirdly, we investigate contextual resolution of aspectual ambiguity, i.e. coercion sentences which allow for two different coercion operations with two different corresponding event representations only one of which is contextually supported. Finally, we will extend existing research on contextual effects on complement coercion aiming at a better understanding of the underlying operations in deriving compositional meaning.
The proposed project focuses on the main goal of the Pragmatic Theories based on Experimental Evidenceby addressing the question how theories on the architecture of the semantics/pragmatics interface can be transformed into more precise theories of context dependence of semantic composition. We consider the temporal and neural underpinnings of language processing, utilizing a broad range of experimental methods.