Abstract knowledge versus direct experience in processing of binomial expressions
Author(s)Morgan, Emily; Levy, Roger P
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We ask whether word order preferences for binomial expressions of the form A and B (e.g. bread and butter) are driven by abstract linguistic knowledge of ordering constraints referencing the semantic, phonological, and lexical properties of the constituent words, or by prior direct experience with the specific items in questions. Using forced-choice and self-paced reading tasks, we demonstrate that online processing of never-before-seen binomials is influenced by abstract knowledge of ordering constraints, which we estimate with a probabilistic model. In contrast, online processing of highly frequent binomials is primarily driven by direct experience, which we estimate from corpus frequency counts. We propose a trade-off wherein processing of novel expressions relies upon abstract knowledge, while reliance upon direct experience increases with increased exposure to an expression. Our findings support theories of language processing in which both compositional generation and direct, holistic reuse of multi-word expressions play crucial roles.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Morgan, Emily, and Levy, Roger. “Abstract Knowledge Versus Direct Experience in Processing of Binomial Expressions.” Cognition 157 (December 2016): 384–402 © 2016 The Authors
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