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versión On-line ISSN 1668-7027


GUEMES, María Mercedes; GATTEI, Carolina; TABULLO, Angel  y  WAINSELBOIM, Alejandro. The role of semantic argument structure in spanish verb-noun compound words: Experimental evidence. Interdisciplinaria [online]. 2016, vol.33, n.2, pp.337-353. ISSN 1668-7027.

Research on the processing of compound words offers important insights on how the mental lexicon is organized. It is a current topic in psycholinguistics if compound words are represented and processed as unitary lexical units (full-listing models) or only as individual constituents analyzed via acombinatorial mechanism (full-parsing models). There is enough experimental evidence that both mechanisms are involved (dual-route models). Several characteristics of the stimuli, like length, morphological family size, frequency of compounds and their constituents are important factors to determine how they are processed. Compound words are meaningful units that contain smaller meaningful units. Therefore, in the domain of compounds' studies, several hypotheses have been proposed to explain how only one interpretation is achieved from two independent meanings. Models that describe the construction of lexical semantic features in compound words, like APPLE - Automatic Progressive Parsing and Lexical Excitation (Libben 1994,1998) or CARIN - Competition Among Relations in Nominals (Gagné, 2000), are based on the notion of a morphological head. According to these theories the recognition of the head would trigger an interpretation of the whole word. In noun-noun compounds (pez espada, 'swordfish', telaraña 'spiderweb'), in which the head has the referential features, the identification of this head and the posterior clarification of the relationship with the non-head lexeme is the way to interpret the whole compound (pez 'fish' and tela 'web', respectively). However, not every compound has a head with the referential attributes inside. Verb-noun compounding is an extremely productive word-formation process in Romance languages. Spanish verb-noun compounds have the particularity of being exocentric: these constructions do not present a categorical, morphological or semantic head. Therefore, access to the meaning depends on the relationship between both of their constituent lexemes. For these units, the traditional distinction between semantically transparent and semantically opaque compounds is not suitable, because it doesn't take under consideration the projection of the argument structure by the verbal constituent. The semantic relationship established between the lexemes within a compound is not unique. While the prototypical semantic structure responds to the agent-patient pattern (cortacésped), there are other semantic possibilities, such as locative relationships (pasacalle). The present study addresses the issue of the comprehension of Spanish verb-noun compounds in order to provide evidence about the role of the argument structure projected by the first lexeme in the whole-word meaning. It is proposed that the argument structure of the verbal constituent has a cognitive influence on the processing and comprehension of these units. Firstly, an acceptability judgment test was administrated in order to identify a group of verb-noun compounds that were adequate for the Argentinean Spanish lexicon. Secondly, a lexical decision task was conducted with the stimuli selected as acceptable. Thirty native speakers (20 females), ranged in age from 19 to 34 years old, with at least 12 years of schooling, participated in the experiment. The lexical decision task included three types of compounds according to their argument structure: (1) Agent / patient (abrelatas), (2) Agent / patient with less prototypical features or metaphorical processes (chupasangre), and (3) locatives (guardamuebles). Stimuli were matched according to the whole-word and constituent frequency and length. For the statistical analysis, ANOVAs were calculated for error rates and response times (RTs) for each condition. Results show that reaction times (answers) to locative compounds were significantly higher than to agent-patient compounds. This contrast cannot be explained by differences in frequency or length, of the compounds or their constituents. Consequently, the present results seem to support the hypothesis that argument structure plays a central role in the processing of these words.

Palabras clave : Verb-noun compounds; Argument structure; Semantic processing; Acceptability judgments; Lexical decision task.

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