Priming plural ambiguities

Mora Maldonado, Emmanuel Chemla, Benjamin Spector

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sentences that involve two or more plural expressions, such as numerical expressions, give rise to systematic ambiguities. For example, the sentence Two boys have three balloons can either mean that there are two boys who, between them, have three balloons (cumulative reading) or that there are two boys who each have three balloons (distributive reading). In this paper, we report the results of three experiments which show that the distributive/cumulative ambiguity can give rise to priming effects. That is, when subjects perform a sentence-picture matching task which creates a strong bias towards one of the two types of readings, they are more likely to access the very same type of interpretation when subsequently presented with a different sentence-picture pair which does not create the same bias. This finding suggests that the abstract constructs that linguists posit to account for different types of readings describe some real features of mental representations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-101
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Early online date6 Mar 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Mar 2017


  • plural ambiguities
  • distributivity
  • priming
  • semantics


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