The proposed research examines how English readers and listeners use their knowledge of the semantic structure of their language to comprehend sentences and discourse. It builds on earlier research examining how they use syntactic structure, extending it to topics that have been investigated in the field of semantics. In particular, the research investigates how people are able to comprehend sentences with variables, which are an essential source of the expressive power of human languages. It studies three distinct aspects of the processing of variables: a) true vs. 'fake'variable binding (""""""""Every man loves his wife"""""""" vs. """"""""The men bought presents for their wives;"""""""" b) the processing of `world variables,'essentially implicatures that some state of affairs is not true in the actual world;and c) the determination of the domain over which a variable is quantified (e.g. does """"""""The offices are mostly clean"""""""" refer to most offices or to degrees of cleanliness?). Each of these topics is the subject of intensive analysis within the field of formal semantics and is ready for experimental psycholinguistic study. The experiments that are proposed study these topics with a variety of techniques, ranging from simple tasks of judging the meaning or the naturalness of sentences and discourses to measures of eye movements during normal reading.

Public Health Relevance

The immediate goal of the research is to explore how normal adult readers and listeners compose the meaning of a sentence out of the meaning of its parts. This is a skill that is universal among intact humans, but that can be degraded or lost in cases of language disorder, most notably aphasia. A better understanding of aphasia must be based on a better understanding of the specific linguistic functions that are lost in aphasia, and it is hoped that such a better understanding will lead to better treatment - an important goal in an aging population with an increasing expected incidence of strokes leading to language impairments.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
Program Officer
Mccardle, Peggy D
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Clifton Jr, Charles; Frazier, Lyn (2016) Accommodation to an Unlikely Episodic State. J Mem Lang 86:20-34
Frazier, Lyn (2015) Two interpretive systems for natural language? J Psycholinguist Res 44:7-25
Frazier, Lyn (2015) Do Null Subjects (mis-)Trigger Pro-drop Grammars? J Psycholinguist Res 44:669-74
Frazier, Lyn; Clifton Jr, Charles (2015) Without his shirt off he saved the child from almost drowning: interpreting an uncertain input. Lang Cogn Neurosci 30:635-647
Frazier, Lyn; Clifton Jr, Charles; Carlson, Katy et al. (2014) Standing alone with prosodic help. Lang Cogn Process 29:459-469
Benatar, Ashley; Clifton Jr, Charles (2014) Newness, Givenness and Discourse Updating: Evidence from Eye Movements. J Mem Lang 71:
Dillon, Brian; Clifton Jr, Charles; Frazier, Lyn (2014) Pushed aside: Parentheticals, Memory and Processing. Lang Cogn Neurosci 29:483-498
Clifton Jr, Charles; Frazier, Lyn (2013) Partition if You Must: Evidence for a No Extra Times Principle. Discourse Process 50:
Harris, Jesse A; Clifton Jr, Charles; Frazier, Lyn (2013) Processing and domain selection: Quantificational variability effects. Lang Cogn Process 28:1519-1544
Breen, Mara; Clifton Jr, Charles (2013) Stress matters revisited: a boundary change experiment. Q J Exp Psychol (Hove) 66:1896-909

Showing the most recent 10 out of 77 publications