Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Laura A. Michaelis
Simulation semantics has successfully demonstrated that (1) linguistic knowledge is not relegated to one specific module, region, or network of the brain, (2) linguistic knowledge is built from an amalgam of embodied experiences, and (3) the simple act of reading a sentence may therefore evoke a distributed pattern of neurological activation that can interfere with or facilitate processing in (canonically) non-linguistic cognitive domains like, e.g., visual shape categorization or motor movement. These findings have had important ramifications for theories of linguistic representation, but also leave room for improvement in that they have not taken into account many factors central to functionalist linguistic description, including lexical class, usage frequency, and constructional context. In this thesis I demonstrate within two different simulation modalities (motor simulation and a new paradigm called temporal simulation), across four experiments, that taking into account concepts of cognitive-functional linguistics like those listed above may help to explain the variable results often reported in simulation semantics studies. The concepts investigated include three forms of frequency (short-term frequency, long-term frequency, and verbal constructional `preference'), two kinds of lexical-class divisions (Vendler's (1957) Aktionsart classes and Rappaport Hovav and Levin's (2008) transfer verb classes), a construction-based opposition (ditransitive vs. oblique goal), and others. Ultimately, it is shown that these factors have the power to heavily distort and potentially even reverse simulation effects. In order to capture the many effects of the above factors on mental simulation, in this thesis I develop and advocate for a model called sub-event monitoring, wherein the extent to which speakers inspect conceptual structure during simulation directly affects observed simulation results. A high degree of sub-event monitoring is associated with increased processing load and diminished effects of frequency on simulation, while a low degree of sub-event monitoring is associated with decreased processing load and enhanced effects of frequency on simulation. It will be shown that the vast majority of the data gathered in this dissertation can be subsumed within the sub-event monitoring framework, which can in turn be used to generate novel predictions about the effects of the above lexical and pragmatic factors on mental simulation.
Gould, Kevin Michael, "Now you see it, now you don’t: The influence of lexical class, usage frequency, and constructional context on semantic simulation" (2015). Linguistics Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 40.