Aspectual Coercion in Eye Movements

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Comprehension includes interpreting sentences in terms of aspectual categories such as processes (Harry climbed) and culminations (Harry reached the top). Adding a verbal modifier such as for many years to a culmination coerces its interpretation from one to many culminations. Previous studies have found that coercion increases lexical decision and meaning judgment time, but not eye fixation time. This study recorded eye movements as participants read sentences in which a coercive adverb increased the interpretation of multiple events. Adverbs appeared at the end of a clause and line; the post-adverb region appeared at the beginning of the next line; follow-up questions occasionally asked about aspectual meaning; and clause type varied systematically. Coercive adverbs increased eye fixation time in the post-adverb region and in the adverb and post-adverb regions combined. Factors that influence the appearance of aspectual coercion may include world knowledge, follow-up questions, and the location and ambiguity of adverbs.



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