About bound and scary books: The processing of book polysemies

Steven Frisson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


There are competing views on the on-line processing of polysemous words such as book, which have distinct but semantically related senses (as in bound book vs. scary book). According to a Sense-Enumeration Lexicon (SEL) view, different senses are represented separately, just as the different meanings of a homonym (e.g. bank). According to an underspecification view, initial processing does not distinguish between the different senses. According to a Relevance Theory (RT)-inspired view, the context will immediately guide interpretation to a specific sense. In Experiment 1, participants indicated whether an adjective-noun construction made sense or not. Switching from one sense to another was costly, but there was no effect of sense frequency (contra SEL). In Experiment 2, eye movements were recorded when participants read sentences in which a polyseme was disambiguated to a specific sense following a neutral context, a sense was repeated, or a sense was switched. The results showed no effect of sense dominance in the neutral condition, no advantage when a sense was repeated, and a cost when switched, especially when switching from a concrete to an abstract interpretation. These data cannot be fitted in an SEL or RT-inspired account, questioning the validity of both as a processing account.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-35
Number of pages19
Early online date30 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier B.V.


  • Abstract-concrete
  • Eye movements
  • Polysemy
  • Sensicality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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