New paper in “Cognitive Science”!

Ziegler, J. , Snedeker, J. and Wittenberg, E. (2018), Event Structures Drive Semantic Structural Priming, Not Thematic Roles: Evidence From Idioms and Light Verbs. Cognitive Science. doi:10.1111/cogs.12687
What are the semantic representations that underlie language production? We use structural¬†priming to distinguish between two competing theories. Thematic roles define semantic structure in¬†terms of atomic units that specify event participants and are ordered with respect to each other¬†through a hierarchy of roles. Event structures instead instantiate semantic structure as embedded¬†sub‚Äźpredicates that impose an order on verbal arguments based on their relative positioning in¬†these embeddings. Across two experiments, we found that priming for datives depended on the¬†degree of overlap in event structures. Specifically, while all dative structures showed priming, due to¬†common syntax, there was a boost for compositional datives priming other compositional datives.¬†Here, the two syntactic forms have distinct event structures. In contrast, there was no boost in¬†priming for dative light verbs, where the two forms map onto a single event representation. On the¬†thematic roles hypothesis, we would have expected a similar degree of priming for the two cases.¬†Thus, our results support event structural approaches to semantic representation and not thematic¬†roles.

LCL at CGG 28

The UCSD Language Comprehension Lab will be represented at the 28th¬†Colloquium on Generative Grammar 2018 in Tarragona, Spain, together with a long list of lovely co-authors, talking about priming argument structure at the Workshop “Ars-Ling: Argument Structure and Linguistic Processing”:

Bjorn Lundquist, Martin Corley, Antonella Sorace, Mai Tungseth, Eva Wittenberg and Gillian Ramchand: Adventures in Structural Priming: The Search for Effects of Argument Structure.

Eva at NerdNite San Diego

On Tuesday, March 6th, Eva gave a San Diego¬†Nerd Nite talk on The World of Words at 32 North Brewing Co. What can we say — tip-of-the-tongue states are simply better with beer. Here is what Eva talked about:

Words are curious creatures. Ever looked for one and couldn’t find it? Where exactly did you look? Did you look for its sound or its meaning? Or did you accidentally create a Frankenword by misunderestimating how hard it is to put the parts of the words together? These are signs that you are utterly normal … but maybe it’d be good to learn a thing or two about words. We’re going to do just that.



Winter Quarter 2018: RAs needed!

How do speakers get from thought to language? How do comprehenders get from form to meaning? What is the best way to test our hypotheses on language and cognition?

Those are the questions that the Language Comprehension Lab at UCSD seeks to answer. We are especially looking for:

  • native or near-native speakers of Hindi, Italian, Farsi, French, or German
  • Computer Science, Linguistics, Psychology, or Cognitive Science majors or minors

To apply, please visit our Join our Lab! page and fill out the application form.

Welcome, Alessandro Caiola!

Alessandro Caiola, a Ph.D. student in Linguistics at Sapienza Università di Roma and Università degli Studi Roma Tre, is visiting the Language Comprehension Lab for four months, until February.
Alessandro’s work focuses on the theory and processing of phenomena at the semantics-syntax interface. While here, he is developing a number of studies investigating the construal of event structure in different light verb constructions.

Welcome Alessandro!

New paper in Frontiers in Psychology!

Eva Wittenberg, Manizeh Khan & Jesse Snedeker just had an article accepted in Frontiers in Psychology:

Investigating thematic roles through implicit learning: Evidence from light verb constructions

The syntactic structure of a sentence is usually a strong predictor of its meaning: Each argument noun phrase (i.e., Subject and Object) should map onto exactly one thematic role (i.e., Agent and Patient, respectively). Some constructions, however, are exceptions to this pattern. This paper investigates how the syntactic structure of an utterance contributes to its construal, using ditransitive English light verb constructions, such as ‚ÄúNils gave a hug to his brother‚ÄĚ, as an example of such mismatches: Hugging is a two-role event, but the ditransitive syntactic structure suggests a three-role event. Data from an eye-tracking experiment and behavioral categorization data reveal that listeners learn to categorize sentences according to the number of thematic roles they convey, independent of their syntax. Light verb constructions, however, seem to form a category of their own, in which the syntactic structure leads listeners down an initial incorrect assignment of thematic roles, from which they only partly recover. These results suggest an automatic influence of syntactic argument structure on semantic interpretation and event construal, even in highly frequent constructions.

Read the paper here (Open Access)!