Deferred interpretations: Why starting Dickens is taxing but reading Dickens isn't

Brian McElree, Steven Frisson, Martin J. Pickering

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Comprehenders often need to go beyond conventional word senses to obtain an appropriate interpretation of an expression. We report an experiment examining the processing of standard metonymies (The gentleman read Dickens) and logical metonymies (The gentleman began Dickens), contrasting both to the processing of control expressions with a conventional interpretation (The gentleman met Dickens). Eye movement measures during reading indicated that standard (producer-for-product) metonymies were not more costly to interpret than conventional expressions, but logical metonymies were more costly to interpret than both standard metonymies and conventional expressions. These results indicate that constructing alternative senses is sometimes taxing and that not all types of deferred interpretations are processed in the same way. The results suggest that a critical factor in determining the attendant cost of constructing alternative senses is whether compositional operations must generate unexpressed semantic structure to realize an extended sense of an expression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-192
Number of pages12
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2006


  • Coercion
  • Logical metonymy
  • Metonym
  • Semantics
  • Sentence processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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