Recent research has determined that word meanings can instantly influence the meaning and distribution of other words in the sentence. Here, we manipulated basic carrier sentences with the disjunction or linking two nouns that were either filling the same thematic role or not, and were either semantically related or not. Though previous research has shown that one word can prime a semantically related word even in a sentential context, we predicted that if or cues knowledge about contextually-relevant alternatives, priming for semantic relatives will only obtain when those words also fill the same thematic role. These predictions were confirmed, as self-paced reading times of the second alternative in the sentence were faster only when the two alternatives shared the same thematic role and semantic category, suggesting that disjunction words like or function similarly to verbs, which cue knowledge about expected argument structure and sense depending on sentential context. The relevance of these findings for basic reasoning phenomena (i.e., the subadditivity effect) is also discussed.
- thematic roles