Constructional associations trump lexical associations in processing valency coercion

Lucia Busso*, Florent Perek, Alessandro Lenci

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper investigates the interaction of lexical and constructional meaning in valency coercion processing, and the effect of (in)compatibility between verb and construction for its successful resolution (Perek, Florent & Martin Hilpert. 2014. Constructional tolerance: Cross-linguistic differences in the acceptability of non-conventional uses of constructions. Constructions and Frames 6(2). 266–304; Yoon, Soyeon. 2019. Coercion and language change: A usage-based approach. Linguistic Research 36(1). 111–139). We present an online experiment on valency coercion (the first one on Italian), by means of a semantic priming protocol inspired by Johnson, Matt A. & Adele E. Goldberg. 2013. Evidence for automatic accessing of constructional meaning: Jabberwocky sentences prime associated verbs. Language & Cognitive Processes 28(10). 1439–1452. We test priming effects with a lexical decision task which presents different target verbs preceded by coercion instances of four Italian argument structure constructions, which serve as primes. Three types of verbs serve as target: lexical associate (LA), construction associate (CA), and unrelated (U) verbs. LAs are semantically similar to the main verb of the prime sentence, whereas CAs are prototypical verbs associated to the prime construction. U verbs serve as a mean of comparison for the two categories of interest. Results confirm that processing of valency coercion requires an integration of both lexical and constructional semantics. Moreover, compatibility is also found to influence coercion resolution. Specifically, constructional priming is primary and independent from compatibility. A secondary priming effect for LA verbs is also found, which suggests a contribution of lexical semantics in coercion resolution – especially for low-compatibility coercion coinages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-318
Number of pages32
JournalCognitive Linguistics
Issue number2
Early online date11 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 Lucia Busso et al., published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


  • coercion
  • construction grammar
  • lexical and constructional semantics
  • priming


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