Being Friendly is Difficult. Psycholinguistic Experiments on Agentivity in Copular Constructions

DSpace Repository


Dokumentart: PhDThesis
Date: 2023-06-19
Language: English
Faculty: 5 Philosophische Fakultät
Department: Allgemeine u. vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft
Advisor: Maienborn, Claudia (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2021-12-10
DDC Classifikation: 000 - Computer science, information and general works
Keywords: Linguistik , Psycholinguistik , Semantik , Pragmatik , Agens , Blickbewegung , Bewertung
Other Keywords: Psycholinguistik
self-paced reading
Order a printed copy: Print-on-Demand
Show full item record


Agentivity in copular constructions such as Sophia is being friendly, compared to its non-agentive counterpart Sophia is friendly, is a phenomenon that has received some attention in the theoretical debate but has not been widely investigated in psycholinguistics. The implications of Sophia’s voluntary control over her deliberate actions, which arise in the former sentence, seem to stem from the interplay between the subject, the verb, and the adjective. Truthfully, there is not much more to the sentence itself. In comparison, Sophia is friendly can be interpreted both as a state and as an event. Neither the predicate nor the verb in isolation can explain how agentivity comes about. Furthermore, the restrictions on the utterance’s agent are vague and flexible. Two theoretical accounts explain the agentivity effect by means of either underspecification or coercion. According to the Underspecification Account, the copula is semantically undetermined and adapts to the requirements of its lexical context as they arise. The adjectival predicate dictates the availability of the agentive interpretation. The Coercion Account postulates that the copula is lexically stative. The state interpretation of the copula-predicate combination is constructed compositionally, but the agentive reading is the result of reinterpreting the utterance as an activity. Underspecification and coercion are reflected in differing ways during processing. The former is effortless, whereas the latter elicits an increase in processing effort and a decrease in naturalness or sensicality. In a series of offline and online experiments on German copular sentences, the predictions of the Underspecification Account and the Coercion Account are put to a test. The results point to the stative nature of the copula, in line with the Coercion Account’s hypothesis. The availability of an adjective’s agentive interpretations appears to hinge on the specific circumstances. However, some degree of uncertainty remains in relation to the subtle nature of agentive coercion effects.

This item appears in the following Collection(s)