The structural characteristics and on-line comprehension of experiencer-verb sentences

Linda Cupples*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Theme-experiencer verbs, like 'amuse', for which the experiencer is the object of an active clause (e.g., 'the joke amused the host'), are distinguished theoretically from action verbs, like 'clean', and experiencer-theme verbs, like 'cherish', for which the experiencer is the subject of an active clause. Three experiments are reported in which readers' comprehension of these verbs was examined using a meaning-classification paradigm. Active theme-experiencer sentences were read for longer than actives containing the other verb types. By contrast, passive theme-experiencer sentences resulted in fewer errors and shorter reading times than passives containing experiencer-theme verbs, and in terms of errors, theme-experiencer passives resembled adjectival structures. Findings were consistent with a previous account by Belletti and Rizzi of the syntactic differences between verb types, although a semantic explanation was not discounted. A correspondence between the language systems responsible for comprehension and production was implied, given the similarity between these results and those of a 1994 study by Ferreira.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-162
Number of pages38
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Volume17
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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