Noun phrase interpretation and conceptual combination

Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Four experiments investigated the process by which people understand adjective-noun and noun-noun phrases in order to evaluate competing models of concept representation and conceptual combination. In three experiments, subjects judged whether noun phrases (NPs) were sensible. The results showed that when modifiers were conceptually complex (nouns and nonpredicating adjectives), the NPs took longer to interpret than when simpler modifiers (predicating adjectives) were used. Also, when an adjective modified part of a noun's schema, it was understood more quickly than when it modified nonschematic aspects of the noun. The results were interpreted as supporting a schema-modification view of comprehending NPs. A final experiment investigated this view by measuring the reading times of sentences containing NPs. The results showed that when the context activated relevant conceptual structures, all NPs were equally easy to comprehend, as predicted by the schema modification view. Without a helpful context, noun-noun phrases were considerably slower than adjective-noun phrases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-288
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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