CLS Speaker Series - Laurel Brehm (Penn State University) Distinguishing Discrete and Gradient Category Structure in Language
Distinguishing Discrete and Gradient Category Structure in Language
Work in cognitive psychology underscores the probabilistic (gradient) nature of mental classes, but traditional linguistic analysis rests upon the discrete separation of classes. I present work that uses memory errors to examine the mental representation of verb-particle constructions (VPCs, e.g., *make up* the story, *cut up* the meat). VPCs are diverse in terms of their semantic and syntactic properties; an outstanding question is how this variability connects with the class structure in the mental representation of VPCs. To experimentally examine this question, I present a novel paradigm that elicits illusory conjunctions of sentence elements-- memory errors that are sensitive to linguistic structure. Applying piecewise regression on these error data demonstrates that illusory conjunctions of verbs and particles follow a graded cline rather than discrete classes, supporting the presence of gradience in the mind's representation of linguistic elements.