LingLang Lunch (2/1/2017): Maria Piñango (Yale)

Maria Piñango’s research focuses mainly on how the process of integration of different linguistic information (i.e. semantic and syntactic information) during comprehension in real-time occurs, and how differences in the process of integration find corresponds to cortical realization and distribution. She is also interested in the characterization of language deficits that result from brain damage, and in the interaction between linguistic processes and other cognitive capacities such as memory. For more information, a brief write-up of her is here.

Eventive iteration construal during real-time comprehension, its neurological underpinnings and the grammar-meaning connection

The composition of a semelfactive predicate, jump, and a for-adverbial, such as (1) Frances jumped for an hour, engenders an iterative reading (multiple jumping events) and additional processing cost, as compared to (2) Frances ran for an hour.1, 2, 3 The cost is captured by the Partition Measure hypothesis, which argues that for-adverbials contain a universal quantifier that quantifies over the subintervals of the interval that they denotes4. A non-infinitesimal partition measure interpretation of the subintervals gives rise to the iterative reading: Frances jumped repeatedly for an hour. An infinitesimal reading is always available and results in no-cost to the processor. The associated processing cost, results from construing from context a necessary partition measure; such partition measure determines the set of subintervals of the for-interval. Crucially on this account, an iterative reading emerging from the composition of a for-adverbial with either a “punctual” (jump) or “durative” (swim) predicate will engender processing cost since in both cases a partition measure has to be construed. We test this prediction by examining the time-course and brain localization of durative and punctual iteration vs. no-iteration:

Condition Sentence
Punctual_Iteration Frances jumped for 10 minutes before starting to swim.
Durative_Iteration ….. ….. ran for 10 years ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. …..
No_Iteration ….. ….. ran for 10 minutes …… ….. ….. ….. ….. …..

The Partition Measure hypothesis predicts both Punctual and Durative_Iteration to be costly vis-à-vis no-iteration because both involve contextual retrieval of (non-infinitesimal) partition measures that yield iterative readings. In the talk I present recent results from our lab* which test the prediction of longer reading times (Study 1, Self-Paced Reading) and overlapping brain activation (study 2, fMRI) for both conditions vs. no-iteration. Together with other observations from our lab and others these results support the existence of a generalized mechanism of real-time meaning composition like the invoked by the Partition Measure hypothesis; a mechanism that appears computationally costly and that recruits predictable cortical regions5,6,7,8. The results are framed within the larger and richer discussion of the structure of the interface between grammar and the rest of cognition, the nature of the processing system that implements it and the structure of the conceptual system as the mental space where meaning building, including linguistic meaning building, could take place.

[1] Moltmann, F. (1991) Measure adverbials. Linguistics and Philosophy, 14:629–660.
[2] Jackendoff, R. (1997) The architecture of the language faculty. No. 28. MIT Press.
[3] Piñango, M., Zurif, E., and Jackendoff, R. (1999) Real-time processing implications of enriched composition at the syntax–semantics interface. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 28(4): 395–414.
[4] Deo, A. & Piñango, M.M. (2011) Quantification and context in measure adverbials. Proceedings from SALT 2011, Rutgers
University, NJ.
[5] Shapiro, L.P.& Levine, B. (1990). Verb processing during sentence comprehension in aphasia. Brain and Language, 38, 21-47.
[6] Piñango, M.M. & Zurif, E. (2001). Semantic Operations in Aphasic Comprehension: Implications for the Cortical Organization of Language, 79, 297-308.
[7] Pylkkänen, L. and McElree. B. (2007) An MEG study of silent meaning. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19(11), 1905-1921.
[8] Lai et al. (2016) The structured individual hypothesis for processing aspectual verbs. Proceedings of Berkeley Linguistics Society 42, 135-152.