Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems

CCNCS Seminar Details

The role of animacy in anomalous sentences

Speaker: Dr Julie-Ann Marshall
Date/Time: Wednesday 4 November 2009, 4.15pm
Location: SB110B, Computing Laboratory, Cornwallis


It seems clear that animacy is a rather basic, readily available, semantic feature that is associated with various processing consequences, both during production and perception. It might, therefore be the case that it is accorded a 'privileged status' during the derivation of meaning. If so, effects of animacy may be more potent and/or available at an earlier stage of processing than those associated with other selectional restriction violations. To test this possibility I examined the role played by animacy in subject-verb anomalies. Participants' eye-movements were recorded as they read sentences from one of three conditions: plausible, animate anomalous (anomalous but does not violate restrictions related to animacy) or inanimate anomalous (matched, equally implausible anomalous constriction that does violate animacy restrictions). The pattern of eye-movements showed a potent effect of animacy, both as soon as the verb was encountered and in later processing stages, across a number of measures. There was, however, no clear evidence that anomaly manipulations that did not also violate animacy restrictions influenced processing, even during later stages, with no difference between the animate anomalous and plausible conditions. It seems that when a subject violates a selectional restriction associated with the verb, but the violation does not involve animacy, this generates little cost at any stage of processing.

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Centre for Cognitive Science and Cognitive Systems, School of Psychology, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NP

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