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Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2011 Apr;64(4):807-22. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2010.520414. Epub 2010 Nov 18.

How do we process novel conceptual combinations in context?

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA.


Most theories of how people interpret novel noun-noun combinations (e.g., ghost forest) do not sufficiently address the role of context, which is surprising given that novel combinations are generally encountered in discourse contexts. We evaluated three hypotheses for the role of context in interpretation. The generation hypothesis states that interpretation is based on sense generation both in and out of context. The anaphor resolution hypothesis states that interpretation initially involves identifying a referent from the prior discourse context, and meaning generation occurs only if anaphoric processing fails. The dual-process hypothesis states that sense generation and anaphor resolution operate in parallel, and both may influence initial interpretation. In two experiments, we examined reading times on novel combinations when the dominant meaning (most likely interpretation) or subordinate meaning (infrequent interpretation) preceded or followed the combination in text. Results supported the dual-process hypothesis.

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