[PS-2.8] An Eye-Tracking Study of Motion Verbs: Coercion or Underspecification?

Pryslopska, A. & Maienborn, C.

SFB 833, University of Tübingen

Motion verbs (MVs) like 'sail' can head atelic and telic VPs (cf. (1)). How can we explain the aspectual variability of such MVs?
The Coercion and Underspecification Accounts propose different ways of modeling the aspectuality of such MVs. Coercion is the contextually driven resolution of a combinatory conflict. The Coercion Account proposes that MVs are lexically specified as atelic (alternatively, it is possible that some flexible MVs are telic, while others atelic). The combination with a telic directional phrase necessitates coercion. Underspecification is the contextually driven specification of an underspecified semantic meaning representation. The Underspecification Account proposes that MVs are aspectually underspecified; specification arises at the VP-level.
We tested 16 MVs in an eye-tracking-during-reading experiment. The study had a 2x2x2 design with factors verb telicity (telic, atelic), directional phrase (telic, ambiguous), temporal adverbial (completive, durative). Analyses of regression path duration, regressions out and total reading times indicate that MVs are underspecified w.r.t. telicity and do not contribute to the aspectual value of a VP, as predicted by the Underspecification Account.

(1). The pirate sailed... (a) [to the North Sea.]telic; (b) [along the coast.]atelic; (c) [over the North Sea.]ambiguous