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Journal Article

Play it by ear? An ERP study of Chinese polysemous verb yǒu


Muralikrishnan,  R.
Scientific Services, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;

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Suna, L., & Muralikrishnan, R. (2021). Play it by ear? An ERP study of Chinese polysemous verb yǒu. Lingua, 251: 103014. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2020.103014.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-9163-4
Mandarin Chinese yŏu is a polysemous verb. It can be interpreted as meaning either ‘have’ or ‘there be/exist’ in sentences of the form ‘NP1 yŏu NP2’, which can correspondingly be analyzed as either a Have-Possessive construction (‘NP1 has NP2’) or an existential/locative construction (‘(At/in) NP1 there is NP2’), or both. This study used event-related brain potentials to investigate whether and how the interpretation of yŏu in a given ‘NP1 yŏu NP2’ construction is determined by the semantics of the nouns involved and their relationship. Twenty-seven participants read sentences of this construction. The results showed that there were different patterns of brain activity that can be attributed to the two functions of yǒu during sentence processing, in relation to the different roles yǒu plays in establishing a relationship between the nouns in the construction. In this way, the two functions of yǒu can basically be distinguished by their complementary distribution: the use of yǒu as a possessive verb ‘have’ is largely conditioned by the presence of human participants at the position of NP1 interpreted as possessors, while typical instances of its use as an existential verb are characterized by the absence of this property.