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Comparative alternation in y-adjectives: insights from self-paced reading

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2019

National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
Address for correspondence: National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, 1 Nanyang Walk, NIE2-02-11, Singapore 637616. e-mail:;


Y-adjectives are English adjectives that end in an orthographic <y> and a /i/ sound, for example lazy. Deriving its hypotheses from previous corpus findings and construction-based principles to language study, the experiment here reported validates the benefit a comparative alternation account of y-adjectives will accrue from a consideration of more and -er constructions across disyllabic adjectives that are not y-ones (called the HANDSOME adjectives). Reading times related to the comparative constructions of morphologically complex and simple y-adjectives were collected before and after native speaker exposure to one of three treatments – a dialogue comprising multiple HANDSOME more constructions, a dialogue comprising multiple HANDSOME-er constructions, or a control condition. Processing of y-adjective more constructions was found eased with exposure to HANDSOME more constructions. This exposure moreover overrode an anticipated processing ease for simple y-adjective -er constructions, while an exposure to HANDSOME -er constructions overrode an anticipated processing ease for complex y-adjective more constructions. The findings support the value of a constructional approach to understanding y-adjective comparatives.

Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2019 

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I would like to thank Laurie Bauer, Paul Warren, and two anonymous reviewers from Language and Cognition for their comments and suggestions on various versions of this paper. Paul Warren has kindly shared some R codes with me in the course of this research, for which I am grateful. I would also like to thank Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, for supporting this research, and the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, for access to library resources. My thanks extend as well to Xinqing (Aileen) Wang for sharing with me a helpful reference.



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