Underspecification and aspectual coercion

Martin J. Pickering, Brian McElree, Steven Frisson, Lillian Chen, Matthew J. Traxler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In principle, comprehenders might always make immediate commitments to the interpretation of expressions (full commitment) or wait until such decisions are necessary (minimal commitment; Frazier & Rayner, 1990). One interesting case involves decisions about telicity: whether expressions refer to events that are determinate versus indeterminate with respect to an endpoint. Thus, the insect hopped is apparently determinate, but continuing with a clause beginning with until, in which case hopped must be interpreted as an ongoing activity, is possible. Studies using secondary lexical decision and "stop-making-sense" tasks found that comprehenders experienced difficulty with these continuations, compatible with full commitment (Pinango, Zurif, & Jackendoff, 1999; Todorova, Straub, Badecker, & Frank, 2000a, 2000b). However, we report 2 self-paced reading and 2 eye-tracking experiments that indicate readers do not experience any difficulty with these types of mismatches in telicity. We argue that during normal reading, comprehenders do not immediately need to commit fully to the telicity of events and that full commitment may only occur when processing demands induce immediate decisions. We contrast these results with evidence for full commitment in complement coercions, for example, began the book (McElree, Traxler, Pickering, Seely, & Jackendoff, 2001) and other forms of semantic interpretation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-155
Number of pages25
JournalDiscourse Processes
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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