Verb semantic structures in memory for sentences: Evidence for componential representation

Dedre Gentner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


This research contrasts two hypotheses concerning componential storage of meaning. The Complexity Hypothesis assumed by Fodor (The language of thought, NY: Crowell, 1975), Kintsch (The representation of meaning in memory, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1974), and Thorndyke (Conceptual complexity and imagery in comprehension and memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 1975, 14, 359-369) states that a word with many semantic components will require more processing resources, comprehension time, and long-term memory space than a word with few components, and thus will interfere more with memory for surrounding words. This memory prediction was tested against an alternative prediction based on connectivity. The Connectivity Hypothesis views verb semantic structures as frames for sentence representation and states that memory strength between two nouns in a sentence increases with the number of underlying verb subpredicates that connect the nouns. Thus, the Complexity Hypothesis predicts that a verb with many subpredicates will lead to poorer memory strength between the surrounding nouns than a verb with few subpredicates, while the Connectivity Hypothesis predicts that verbs with many subpredicates will lead to greater memory strength between nouns in cases when the additional subpredicates provide semantic connections between the nouns. In three experiments, subjects recalled subject-verb-object sentences, given subject nouns as cues. General verbs, with relatively few subpredicates, were compared with more specific verbs whose additional subpredicates either did or did not provide additional connections between the surrounding nouns. The level of recall of the object noun, given the subject noun as cue, was predicted by the relative number of connecting subpredicates in the verb, but not by the relative number of subpredicates. This finding supports the Connectivity Hypothesis over the Complexity Hypothesis. These results are interpreted in terms of a model in which the verb conveys a structured set of subpredicates that provides a connective framework for sentence memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-83
Number of pages28
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1981

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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