We are happy to announce a talk by Carla Spellerberg (Amherst) and Carolin Reinert (Frankfurt) in the Semantics Colloquium.

The talk will take place on campus in IG 4.301.
If you wish to participate virtually via Zoom, please contact Lennart Fritzsche for the link.

Date: July 4, 2024

Time: 4 pm – 6 pm ct

Title: Nouns and their typical activities

In this talk, we present parts of our ongoing joint work on the semantics and processing of English adjective noun constructions such as the following:

a. Mary is a skillful dancer.
b. Mary is a skillful ballerina.
c. Mary is a skillful person.
d. Mary is a skillful beginner.

We assume that adjectives like skillful are underspecified, and capture this by means of a parameter in the semantics of these adjectives. Moreover, we assume that value of this parameter is supplied as a default by world knowledge associated with certain nouns, or is supplied by the context of utterance. We are interested in the (in)ability of nouns to provide a default interpretation: while (1a) and (1b) could be paraphrased as Mary is skillful as a dancer/ballerina, (1c) and (1d) cannot be paraphrased as Mary is skillful as a person/beginner.

In our talk, we discuss preliminary results of the first norming study in our experimental series, which compares non-deverbal nouns that have an event argument (such as ballerina) and non-deverbal nouns that do not have an event argument (such as person). In this pilot study, we presented speakers of American English (n=40) with stimuli containing an adjective-noun construction consisting of a skillful-type adjective and a noun of one of the two noun classes, and asked them to supply the respective skill (e.g. Mary is a skillful ballerina/person – What is Mary skillful at? ). The results of this study point towards the fact that English speakers are sensitive to the noun type that a skillful -type adjective combines with. We connect this to broader psychological concepts capturing how humans identify and categorize entities belonging to different kinds (Prasada & Dillingham 2006), and argue that skillful -type adjectives are sensitive to so-called k-properties associated with nouns, which we assume are represented linguistically (by means of the event argument). Finally, we would also like to discuss our next steps: we are planning to test the real-time processing of these adjective-noun combinations in a maze task (Forster et al. 2009), and we are also planning to test the interpretation of these adjective noun constructions in context.