Fitting, not clashing! A distributional semantic model of logical metonymy


Logical metonymy interpretation (e.g. begin the book → writing) has received wide attention in linguistics. Experimental results have shown higher processing costs for metonymic conditions compared with non-metonymic ones (read the book). According to a widely held interpretation, it is the type clash between the event-selecting verb and the entity-denoting object (begin the book) that triggers coercion mechanisms and leads to additional processing effort. We propose an alternative explanation and argue that the extra processing effort is an effect of thematic fit. This is a more economical hypothesis that does not need to postulate a separate type clash mechanism: entity-denoting objects simply have a low fit as objects of event-selecting verbs. We test linguistic datasets from psycholinguistic experiments and find that a structured distributional model of thematic fit, which does not encode any explicit argument type information, is able to replicate all significant experimental findings. This result provides evidence for a graded account of coercion phenomena in which thematic fit accounts for both the trigger of the coercion and the retrieval of the covert event.

Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Computational Semantics – Short Papers
Alessandra Zarcone
Alessandra Zarcone
Professor of Language Technologies and Cognitive Assistants

Computational linguist with a background in NLP and in psycholinguistics, working on human-machine interaction.