chapter  8
30 Pages

Words and Sentences

In the previous chapters of this book we have examined how the eyes move through text and how a reader recognizes the words that are seen. We have argued that reading is largely a word-by-word affair, and have discussed how the identifi cation of words is affected by context. But we know that reading, and language comprehension generally, is more than identifying words. The words have to be put together into meaningful sentences, which then must be interpreted with respect to the context in which they occur and strung together into coherent discourses if the reading process is to be successful. While words are presumably stored as units in the lexicon (overlooking such things as novel compound words), there are too many sentences for there to be a “lexicon” of sentences. They must be built on the fl y. Sentences have the property of compositionality; a reader or listener constructs, or “composes,” the meaning of a sentence out of the meanings of the words it contains, plus their grammatical relationships. The current chapter explores how this is done.