The Effect of Prosody on Conceptual Combination


should be sent to Dermot Lynott, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK. E-mail:


Research into people’s comprehension of novel noun-noun phrases has long neglected the possible influences of prosody during meaning construction. At the same time, work in conceptual combination has disagreed about whether different classes of interpretation emerge from single or multiple processes; for example, whether people use distinct mechanisms when they interpret octopus apartment as property-based (e.g., an apartment with eight rooms) or relation-based (e.g., an apartment where an octopus lives). In two studies, we manipulate the prosodic emphasis patterns of novel noun-noun combinations (placing stress on the modifier noun, the head noun, or dual stress on both nouns) and ask participants to generate an interpretation for the novel phrase. Results show that people are faster to generate property-based interpretations when dual emphasis stresses both nouns equally, with prosody having little effect on the speed of relation-based interpretations. These findings highlight a role for prosody during meaning construction and underline important differences between relation- and property-based interpretations that are difficult to reconcile with unitary process views of conceptual combination.