The collective-distributive ambiguity — a view from the corpus

Kata Wohlmuth (Pompeu Fabra)


Most sentences with a plural subject and an indefinite object are ambiguous between the collective and the distributive interpretations: 'The boys lifted a piano' can mean either that the boys lifted a piano together, or the boys lifted a piano each. Assuming that this ambiguity gets resolved once such sentences appear in context brings up the question of what linguistic factors play a role in the disambiguation. In this talk I will give possible answers to this question based on data extracted from the Prenn Treebank and the GloWBe corpus.