Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Context-driven Expectations about Focus Alternatives

Kim, Christina S., Gunlogson, Christine, Tanenhaus, Michael K., Runner, Jeffrey T. (2015) Context-driven Expectations about Focus Alternatives. Cognition, 139 . pp. 28-49. ISSN 0010-0277. (doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2015.02.009) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:47757)

Other Publisher pdf
Language: English

Restricted to Repository staff only
[thumbnail of 1-s2.0-S0010027715000402-main.pdf__tid=d5d92060-f0de-11e5-9b8a-00000aab0f26&acdnat=1458727736_9afe8650d1035bc9e5ba0955aaaeba56]
Official URL:


What is conveyed by a sentence frequently depends not only on the descriptive content carried by its words, but also on implicit alternatives determined by the context of use. Four visual world eye-tracking experiments examined how alternatives are generated based on aspects of the discourse context and used in interpreting sentences containing the focus operators 'only' and 'also'. Experiment 1 builds on previous reading time studies showing that the interpretations of 'only' sentences are constrained by alternatives explicitly mentioned in the preceding discourse, providing fine-grained time course information about the expectations triggered by 'only'. Experiments 2 and 3 show that, in the absence of explicitly mentioned alternatives, lexical and situation-based categories evoked by the context are possible sources of alternatives. While Experiments 1–3 all demonstrate the discourse dependence of alternatives, only explicit mention triggered expectations about alternatives that were specific to sentences with 'only'. By comparing 'only' with 'also', Experiment 4 begins to disentangle expectations linked to the meanings of specific operators from those generalizable to the class of focus-sensitive operators. Together, these findings show that the interpretation of sentences with focus operators draws on both dedicated mechanisms for introducing alternatives into the discourse context and general mechanisms associated with discourse processing.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1016/j.cognition.2015.02.009
Uncontrolled keywords: Focus; Discourse processing; Visual world eye-tracking; Alternatives; Context dependence; Domain restriction
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
P Language and Literature > PE English philology and language
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
Depositing User: Christina Kim
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2015 18:10 UTC
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2024 08:10 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.