, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 199-217
Date: 06 Nov 2007

The Role of Semantic Features in Verb Processing

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The present study examined the general hypothesis that, as for nouns, stable representations of semantic knowledge relative to situations expressed by verbs are available and accessible in long term memory in normal people. Regular associations between verbs and past tenses in French adults allowed to abstract two superordinate semantic features in the representation of verb meaning: durativity and resultativity. A pilot study was designed to select appropriate items according to these features: durative, non-resultative verbs and non-durative, resultative verbs. An experimental study was then conducted to assess semantic priming in French adults with two visual semantic-decision tasks at a 200- and 100-ms SOA. In the durativity decision task, participants had to decide if the target referred to a durable or non-durable situation. In the resultativity decision task, they had to decide if it referred to a situation with a directly observable outcome or without any clear external outcome. Targets were preceded by similar, opposite, and neutral primes. Results showed that semantic priming can tap verb meaning at a 200- and 100-ms SOA, with the restriction that only the positive value of each feature benefited from priming, that is the durative and resultative values. Moreover, processing of durativity and resultativity is far from comparable since facilitation was shown on the former with similar and opposite priming, whereas it was shown on the latter only with similar priming. Overall, these findings support Le Ny’s (in: Saint-Dizier, Viegas (eds) Computational lexical semantics, 1995; Cahier de Recherche Linguistique LanDisCo 12:85–100, 1998; Comment l’esprit produit du sens, 2005) general hypothesis that classificatory properties of verbs could be interpreted as semantic features and the view that semantic priming can tap verb meaning, as noun meaning.