Influence of discourse context on feature availability in conceptual combination

Christina L. Gagné, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Four experiments investigated the comprehension of combined concepts (e.g., peeled apple) in discourse by having people verify features that were true of the phrase (e.g., white) or true of noun (e.g., round). Phrase features were verified more accurately than noun features when the combinations were presented in a neutral context (Experiment 1). In Experiments 2 and 3, the discourse context was constructed to alter the given-new structure of the combined concept. In both cases, the discourse context did not alter the tendency for phrase features to be easier to verify than noun features. In Experiment 4, we found that it is possible to alter the relative difficulty of verifying noun and phrase features if the discourse context emphasizes the particular feature being verified. Taken together, these results suggest that, during conceptual combination, features that are viewed as nonredundant information are available prior to other features. Features may be regarded as nonredundant if they serve to distinguish the combination (e.g., peeled apples) from other members of the head noun category (e.g., apples), or if they have not been previously emphasized in the context. The results argue against a compositional model of conceptual combination in which both the modifier and head noun are accessed independently prior to the interpretation of the entire combined concept.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-101
Number of pages23
JournalDiscourse Processes
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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