The Contribution of Argument Structure Constructions to Sentence Meaning

Giulia M.L. Bencini, Adele E. Goldberg

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134 Scopus citations


What types of linguistic information do people use to construct the meaning of a sentence? Most linguistic theories and psycholinguistic models of sentence comprehension assume that the main determinant of sentence meaning is the verb. This idea was argued explicitly in Healy and Miller (1970). When asked to sort sentences according to their meaning, Healy and Miller found that participants were more likely to sort sentences according to the main verb in the sentence than according to the subject argument. On the basis of these results, the authors concluded that the verb was the main determinant of sentence meaning. In this study we used the same sorting paradigm to explore the possibility that there is another strong influence on sentence interpretation: the configuration of complements (the argument structure construction). Our results showed that participants did produce sorts by construction, despite a well-documented tendency for subjects to sort on the basis of a single dimension, which would favor sorts by verb.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)640-651
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2000
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


  • Argument structure constructions; verbs; sentence meaning


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