Evidence for automatic accessing of constructional meaning: Jabberwocky sentences prime associated verbs

Matt A. Johnson, Adele E. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


A central question within psycholinguistics is where sentences get their meaning. While it has been shown that phrasal constructions are readily associated with specific meanings, it remains unclear whether this meaning is accessed automatically, in the sense of being accessed quickly, and without reflection or explicit instruction. In this study, participants performed a lexical decision task on individual target words which were preceded by abstract skeletal constructions devoid of any meaningful open-class items. For example, an instance of a ditransitive prime was, He daxed her the norp. Three target words corresponded to the hypothesised meaning of each construction; that is, semantically congruent words for the English ditransitive were give, handed, and transferred. We found significant priming effects for congruent over incongruent target words, both for associated targets (which occur regularly within the construction: e.g., give and handed), and to a lesser extent, for target words that are semantically related to the construction but which rarely occur in the construction (e.g., transferred for the ditransitive).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1439-1452
Number of pages14
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Associative priming
  • Construction grammar
  • Semantic priming
  • Sentence meaning


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