Maria Pinango, Associate Professor, Yale Linguistics

Thursday, November 11, 2021 - 12:30pm

A possible structure of the conceptual system that supports linguistic meaning construal 

One way to understand language comprehension from the point of view of the cognitive system that supports it is as a lexically-driven memory-based capacity where lexicalized and non-lexicalized meaning structures interact in real-time to give rise to larger conceptual construals. The goal of this talk is to explore the properties of the conceptual system that support such linguistic meaning comprehension. Our test case is metonymic expressions. Whereas the linguistic signal in English have possessives “The cat has beautiful fur”  or locatives “The cat has a collar (on it)” seem to provide all the elements for conceptually acceptable construals, the conceptual construals of metonymic expressions demand information that appears to be not linguistically present.  Examples of such expressions are “They sold three Smiths (at the auction yesterday)” ( where “Smith” stands for “the paintings/writings etc produced by someone called Smith”  or  “10B finally agreed to wear the mask all the way up” (the flight attendant tells the captain)”  (where “10B” stands for “the person occupying the seat 10B”).  As it turns out, a body of experimental work of the past 20 years or so indicates that the processor is sensitive to such linguistic underspecification. It signals the presence of metonymy as processing cost. In the talk I present  a psycholinguistic analysis of these expressions, couched on a specific take on conceptual structure that brings together memory and world-knowledge factors. The implications of this analysis are then further discussed in the context of yet another linguistic dynamic, acquisition.