AuthorO'Bryan, Erin Leigh
AdvisorBever, Thomas G.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation presents and evaluates the hypothesis that event structure information such as telicity is used during language comprehension. A verb or verb phrase is telic if it denotes an event that necessarily progresses towards an endpoint. The major experimental finding presented in this dissertation is that garden pathing is less severe in reduced relative clause sentences with telic embedded verbs than in those with atelic embedded verbs. For example, in the structurally ambiguous sentence 'The actress awakened/sketched by the writer left in a hurry', less comprehension difficulty occurs on the word 'by' when the embedded verb is telic ('awakened') than when it is atelic ('sketched'). On-line measures of comprehension difficulty in three different experimental paradigms showed this result at the earliest disambiguation point (on the by-phrase). Two of these paradigms involved comprehension in reading, and the third one involved spoken language comprehension. These experiments also included the factor of obligatory transitivity: whether or not the verb requires a direct object. The results show that telicity and obligatory transitivity both immediately affect the severity of the garden path independently of each other. In order to address the issue of how to categorize verb phrases as telic or atelic, I conducted a computerized study which collected semantic judgments and grammaticality judgments on verb phrases used in three classic telicity tests from the event structure literature. The participants in the study were 24 English-speaking students in an introductory linguistics course. The results provide preliminary evidence that sentence frames, such as the adverbials 'for an hour' and 'in an hour', provide an objective means of categorizing verb phrases as telic or atelic. The research strongly suggests that verb telicity information should be included in models of human language comprehension. I discuss means of including telicity in several pre-existing comprehension models. The account that best explains the telicity and transitivity effects taken together is based on identifying canonical sentence patterns associated with thematic roles, as proposed by Townsend and Bever (2001). The information that a verb is inherently telic activates the use of an NV(N) template with an obligatory theme role.
Degree ProgramGraduate College