Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
In this dissertation, I seek to construct a model of meaning variation built upon variability in linguistic structure, conceptual structure, and cognitive makeup, and in doing so, exemplify an approach to studying meaning that is both linguistically principled and neuropsychologically grounded. As my test case, I make use of the English lexical item 'have' by proposing a novel analysis of its meaning based on its well-described variability in English and its embedding into crosslinguistically consistent patterns of variation and change. I support this analysis by investigating its real-time comprehension patterns through behavioral, electropsychophysiological, and hemodynamic brain data, thereby incorporating dimensions of domain-general cognitive variability as crucial determinants of linguistic variability. Per my account, 'have' retrieves a generalized relational meaning which can give rise to a conceptually constrained range of readings, depending on the degree of causality perceived from either linguistic or contextual cues. Results show that comprehenders can make use of both for 'have'-sentences, though they vary in the degree to which they rely on each. At the very broadest level, the findings support a model in which the semantic distribution of 'have' is inherently principled due to a unified conceptual structure. This underlying conceptual structure and relevant context cooperate in guiding comprehension by modulating the salience of potential readings, as comprehension unfolds; though, this ability to use relevant context--context-sensitivity--is variable but systematic across comprehenders. These linguistic and cognitive factors together form the core of normal language processing and, with a gradient conceptual framework, the minimal infrastructure for meaning variation and change.
Zhang, Muye, "Linguistic variation from cognitive variability: the case of English 'have'" (2021). Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dissertations. 445.