Incremental processing of telicity in Italian children

Jasmijn E. Bosch, Mathilde Chailleux, Francesca Foppolo


A sentence like 'Lyn has peeled the apple' triggers two types of inferences: a telicity inference that the event is telic; and a culmination inference that the event has reached its telos and has stopped. This results in the final interpretation of the sentence that Lyn has completely peeled the apple. We present an eye-tracking study to test children's ability to predict the upcoming noun (e.g., the apple) during the incremental processing of sentences like 'Look at the picture in which he/she has peeled the…' in which the predicate is telic and the verb appears in the perfective form. By means of the Visual World Paradigm, we aimed to investigate children's ability to use the lexical semantics and aspectual morphology of verbs during language processing. To test if children can predict the target (e.g., a completely peeled apple) by exploiting the lexical-semantic meaning of the verb, we contrasted the target picture with a picture of an object that cannot be peeled; to test if they can predict on the basis of the verb's perfective morphology, we compared the target with the picture of a half-peeled apple. Our results show that Italian children can anticipate the upcoming noun in both cases, providing evidence that children can exploit the morphosyntactic cue on the verb (perfective aspect) to incrementally derive the culmination inference that the telos is reached and the event is completed. We also show that the integration of aspect requires some additional time compared to the integration of the basic lexical semantics of the verb.


aspect; semantics; eye-tracking; visual world paradigm; incremental processing

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Copyright (c) 2021 Francesca Foppolo

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