The verb mutability effect: Studies of the combinatorial semantics of nouns and verbs

Dedre Gentner, Ilene M. France

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

34 Scopus citations


This chapter investigates the combinatorial semantics of nouns and verbs in sentences: specifically, the phenomenon of meaning adjustment under semantic strain. The first issue in semantic adjustment is the locus of change. It presents the verb mutability hypothesis-the semantic structures conveyed by verbs and other predicate terms are more likely to be altered to fit the context than the semantic structures conveyed by object-reference terms. The meaning adjustment initiated in response to a mismatch with context is nevertheless characterized by orderly semantic processes. This chapter concerns with the combination of meaning-specifically, how the meanings of nouns and verbs combine to make new sentence meanings. It focuses on cases where the noun and verb are semantically ill-matched. Understanding such cases is not only useful in explaining metaphorical extension but also in constraining the set of explanations that can apply in normal sentence processing.The pattern of verb adjustment suggests a middle course between an extreme contextual negotiation position, in which words have no inherent meaning, meaning is entirely contextually bound, and a fixed-meaning approach, in which rigid word meanings are simply concatenated. The change of meaning occurs to accommodate contextual constraints, but this change involves computations over the internal structure of the word meanings, particularly that of the verb.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLexical Ambiguity Resolution
Subtitle of host publicationPerspective from Psycholinguistics, Neuropsychology and Artificial Intelligence
PublisherElsevier Science
Number of pages40
ISBN (Electronic)9780080510132
ISBN (Print)9780934613507
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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