Real-Time Commitments in Processing Individual/Degree Polysemy

  • Margaret GrantEmail author
  • Sonia Michniewicz
  • Jessica Rett
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 48)


Individual/degree polysemy is a phenomenon in which individual-denoting Determiner Phrases of any type can, in certain contexts, denote a degree corresponding to some salient measure of that individual. Like deferred reference, individual/degree polysemy conditions agreement: compare Four pizzas are vegetarian to Four pizzas is more than Sue had asked for. In this paper, we test whether readers commit to a single meaning of potentially polysemous DPs during real-time sentence processing. Immediate commitments have been found for other cases of grammatical ambiguity, for example collective or distributive uses of verbs, whereas readers do not necessarily commit to one sense of a lexically polysemous element (e.g., the concrete or abstract sense of newspaper). We present the results of one study of eye movements during reading and one self-paced reading study. Our results provide evidence that there are immediate commitments to the individual sense and the degree sense, depending on the internal properties of the Determiner Phrase. In particular, there is some evidence that definite DPs like the pizzas have a commitment to an individual interpretation, and stronger evidence that numeral DPs like two pizzas have a commitment to a degree interpretation. We discuss our results in light of the Minimal Semantic Commitment hypothesis proposed by Frazier, Pacht and Rayner.



Experiment 1 was conducted while the first author was an Assistant Professor (limited-term) at the University of Toronto, and was supported in part by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Internal Grant to the Department of Linguistics at the University of Toronto. The corresponding author is currently funded by the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz-Preis 2014 awarded to Prof. Dr. Artemis Alexiadou (AL554/8-1). We thank Elena-Cristina Feraru, Daria Kotcherova and Kelly-Ann Blake for their assistance in running participants. We are grateful for feedback from the audience at the 29th CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing at the University of Florida, the 39th annual conference of the German Linguistic Society, and members of the Research Group on Experimental Syntax and Heritage Languages at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaret Grant
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sonia Michniewicz
    • 2
  • Jessica Rett
    • 3
  1. 1.Institut für Anglistik und AmerikanistikHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.School of CommunicationNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  3. 3.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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