A matter of ambiguity
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1. A matter of ambiguity? Using eye movements to examine collective vs. distributive interpretations of plural sets. Christine Boylan Dimka Atanassov Florian Schwarz John Trueswell. 2. Outline. How do listeners interpret plural subjects?

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A matter of ambiguity?

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A matter of ambiguity

1

A matter of ambiguity?

Using eye movements to examine collective vs. distributive interpretations of plural sets

Christine Boylan

DimkaAtanassov

Florian Schwarz

John Trueswell


A matter of ambiguity

2

Outline

  • How do listeners interpret plural subjects?

  • Collectivity vs. Distributivity in formal semantics

  • Previous work

  • Current study

    • Visual World Paradigm

  • Results

  • Ambiguity vs. Vagueness

  • Discussion & future studies


A matter of ambiguity

3

Plural Subjects

John and Bill are carrying a box.

(a)(b)


Plurality

Plurality

  • Link (1983): join-semilattice structures:

  • Sue, John and Bill

S&J&B

Atoms

S&B

J&B

S&J

John

Bill

Sue


A matter of ambiguity

5

Distributivity: Heim et al.(1991)

  • The distributive reading involves an implicit distributive operator, D

  • [ D]carry-a-boxentails:

  • carry-a-box(J) & carry-a-box(B)

  • D is like a covert “each”.

  • Collective readings do not involve postulating D

  • See also: Choe, Jae-Woong (1987), Link (1998, 1983), Fred Landman (2000)

J&B

John

Bill


A matter of ambiguity

6

Previous Psycholinguistics Work: Frazier et al. (1999)

  • Readers initially prefer the collective?

    John and Bill are carrying a box together across the street.

  • John and Bill are carrying a box each across the street.

  • Effect is relatively late

  • Dependent measure (reading times) reflects processing cost, not representational commitments per se

Easy.

Difficult!

No differences


Visual world paradigm

Visual World Paradigm


A matter of ambiguity

Our Experiment

  • Subjects saw:

8

+

  • and heard one of the following sentence types:

  • ambiguous regionobject(counterbalanced for ball/box)

  • (i) John and Bill each are carrying a red ball.“each” condition

  • (ii) John and Billare carrying a red ball.“null” – dist. condition

  • (iii) John and Billare carrying a red box.“null” – coll. condition

  • (iv) John and Bill together are carrying a redbox.“together” condition


A matter of ambiguity

9

Eye Movement Results:

Preference for Collective Scene

Collective

-

A

B

C

Distributive

Collective

Advantage

carrying a red b…

John and Bill each/together/ Ø are

(b)all/(b)ox


A matter of ambiguity

10

Collective Preference per Time Region

* Bonferroni-corrected significance level (α= 0.002)

*

ns

*

ns

ns

*

*


A matter of ambiguity

11

Summary

  • Immediate preference for collective interpretation

  • Compatible with the analyses in

    • Heim et al. (1991): D operator  more complex representation

    • Frazier et al. (1999): Distributive incurs processing costs


A matter of ambiguity

12

A matter of ambiguity, not vagueness

  • Immediate collective preference, even in the Ø condition, suggests the collective-vs.-distributive distinction is one of ambiguity as opposed to vagueness:

  • vagueness:

    • processor can remain agnostic about collective/distributive status of the NP until it reaches “ball” or “box”

    • looks to each scene would be equally frequent: in this case, the null hypothesis

  • ambiguity:

    • the processor must assign collectivity or distributivity even in the absence of information determining this (before “ball” or “box”)

    • subject fixates the representation it has committed to: in this case, there is a preference for the collective


A matter of ambiguity

13

More work to be done

  • In children, this is still an ambiguity (not vagueness), but the preference is for the distributive! (Syrett & Musolino, 2010)

  • Preference for collective/distributive interacts with the type of predicate and its bias:

    • John and Bill are lifting a piano. Collective bias

    • John and Bill are wearing a hat.Distributive bias


A matter of ambiguity

14

More work to be done

  • Our study used mainly neutral predicates, and included as many collective- as distributive-biased predicates, e.g.

  • John and Bill are lifting a dresser. Collective bias

vs.

  • John and Bill are wearing a raincoat.Distributive bias

vs.


A matter of ambiguity

15

More work to be done

  • Our study used mainly neutral predicates, and included as many collective- as distributive-biased predicates, e.g.

  • However, a regression analysis using individual predicates’ collective/distributive bias scores might provide evidence for a lexical bias effect.

  • Also, manipulating the relative frequencies of distributive and collective interpretations in general would allow us to examine how an ambiguity decision might be sensitive to corpus distributions.


Thank you

Thank you!


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