Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Lyn Frazier

Second Advisor

Angelika Kratzer

Third Advisor

Charles Clifton, Jr.

Subject Categories

Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics | Semantics and Pragmatics


This dissertation looks at the question of how comprehenders get from an underspecified semantic representation to a particular construal. Its focus is on reciprocal sentences. Reciprocal sentences, like other plural sentences, are open to a range of interpretations. Work on the semantics of plural predication commonly assumes that this range of interpretations is due to cumulativity (Krifka 1992): if predicates are inherently cumulative (Kratzer 2001), the logical representations of plural sentences underspecify the interpretation (rather than being ambiguous between various interpretations). The dissertation argues that the processor makes use of a number of general preferences and principles in getting from such underspecified semantic representations to particular construals: principles of economy in mental representation, including a preference for uniformity, and principles of natural grouping. It sees no need for the processor to make use of a principle like the Strongest Meaning Hypothesis (Dalrymple et al. 1998) in comprehending reciprocal sentences. Instead, they are associated with cumulative semantic representations with truth conditions equivalent to Weak Reciprocity (Langendoen 1978), as in Dotlačil (2010). Interpretations weaker than Weak Reciprocity (‘chain interpretations’) arise via a process of pragmatic weakening. Interpretations stronger than Weak Reciprocity may arise in different ways. Statives are seen as having special requirements regarding the naturalness or ‘substantivity’ of pluralities (Kratzer 2001), and this leads to stronger readings. In other cases, strong interpretations are favoured by a preference for uniformity, which is taken to be a type of economy preference. It is assumed that the processor need not commit to a fully spelled out construal, but may build mental models of discourse that themselves underspecify the relations that hold among individuals. While the dissertation’s focus is on reciprocal sentences, the same principles and preferences are argued to be involved in comprehending other plural sentences.