Clippers 2/15: Christian Clark on composition operations in human sentence processing

Human sentence processing appears to require assembling the meanings of words into precise interpretations, a process that can be described in terms of semantic composition operations such as extraction and argument attachment. Using a set of broad-coverage psycholinguistic corpora with annotations from a generalized categorial grammar (Nguyen et al., 2012), we test the extent to which such composition operations influence self-paced reading times, eye-tracking measures, and fMRI BOLD signal. We find evidence for effects from several operations such as argument attachment and extraction; the latter effect is confirmed in a separate test on held-out data. Our results suggest that composition operations may play an explicit role in the construction of meaning over the course of sentence processing.