Constructing Meaning: The Role of Affordances and Grammatical Constructions in Sentence Comprehension

Michael P. Kaschak, Arthur M. Glenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

210 Scopus citations


The Indexical Hypothesis describes how sentences become meaningful through grounding their interpretation in action. We develop support for the hypothesis by examining how people understand innovative denominal verbs, that is, verbs made from nouns and first encountered by participants within the experiment (e.g., to crutch). Experiments 1 and 2 demonstrated that different syntactic constructions provide scenes or goals that influence the meaning created for the innovative verbs. Experiment 3 used reading time to demonstrate that people also consider possible interactions with the objects underlying the verbs (i.e., the affordances of the objects) when creating meaning. Experiment 4 used a property verification procedure to demonstrate that the affordances derived from the objects depend on the situation-specific actions needed to complete the goal specified by the syntactic construction. Thus the evidence supports a specific type of interaction between syntax and semantics that leads to understanding: The syntax specifies a general scene, and the affordances of objects are used to specify the scene in detail sufficient to take action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)508-529
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2000


  • Embodied cognition; construction grammar; sentence comprehension; denominal verbs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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