The goal of this study was to jointly examine the effects of word class, word class ambiguity, and semantic ambiguity on the brain response to words in syntactically specified contexts. Four types of words were used: (1) word class ambiguous words with a high degree of semantic ambiguity (e.g., ‘duck’); (2) word class ambiguous words with little or no semantic ambiguity (e.g., ‘vote’); (3) word class unambiguous nouns (e.g., ‘sofa’); and (4) word class unambiguous verbs (e.g., ‘eat’). These words were embedded in minimal phrases that explicitly specified their word class: “the” for nouns (and ambiguous words used as nouns) and “to” for verbs (and ambiguous words used as verbs). Our results replicate the basic word class effects found in prior work (Federmeier, K.D., Segal, J.B., Lombrozo, T., Kutas, M., 2000. Brain responses to nouns, verbs and class ambiguous words in context. Brain, 123 (12), 2552–2566), including an enhanced N400 (250–450ms) to nouns compared with verbs and an enhanced frontal positivity (300–700 ms) to unambiguous verbs in relation to unambiguous nouns. A sustained frontal negativity (250–900 ms) that was previously linked to word class ambiguity also appeared in this study but was specific to word class ambiguous items that also had a high level of semantic ambiguity; word class ambiguous items without semantic ambiguity, in contrast, were more positive than class unambiguous words in the early part of this time window (250–500 ms). Thus, this frontal negative effect seems to be driven by the need to resolve the semantic ambiguity that is sometimes associated with different grammatical uses of a word class ambiguous homograph rather than by the class ambiguity per se.
Language; Word class; Word class ambiguity; Noun–verb homonymy; ERP
We conducted a preliminary study to examine whether Chinese readers’ spontaneous word segmentation processing is consistent with the national standard rules of word segmentation based on the Contemporary Chinese language word segmentation specification for information processing (CCLWSSIP). Participants were asked to segment Chinese sentences into individual words according to their prior knowledge of words. The results showed that Chinese readers did not follow the segmentation rules of the CCLWSSIP, and their word segmentation processing was influenced by the syntactic categories of consecutive words. In many cases, the participants did not consider the auxiliary words, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, verbs, numerals and quantifiers as single word units. Generally, Chinese readers tended to combine function words with content words to form single word units, indicating they were inclined to chunk single words into large information units during word segmentation. Additionally, the “overextension of monosyllable words” hypothesis was tested and it might need to be corrected to some degree, implying that word length have an implicit influence on Chinese readers’ segmentation processing. Implications of these results for models of word recognition and eye movement control are discussed.
The present study explored the effect of speaker prosody on the representation of words in memory. To this end, participants were presented with a series of words and asked to remember the words for a subsequent recognition test. During study, words were presented auditorily with an emotional or neutral prosody, whereas during test, words were presented visually. Recognition performance was comparable for words studied with emotional and neutral prosody. However, subsequent valence ratings indicated that study prosody changed the affective representation of words in memory. Compared to words with neutral prosody, words with sad prosody were later rated as more negative and words with happy prosody were later rated as more positive. Interestingly, the participants' ability to remember study prosody failed to predict this effect, suggesting that changes in word valence were implicit and associated with initial word processing rather than word retrieval. Taken together these results identify a mechanism by which speakers can have sustained effects on listener attitudes towards word referents.
A gating technique was used in two studies of spoken word identification that investigated the relationship between the available acoustic–phonetic information in the speech signal and the context provided by meaningful and semantically anomalous sentences. The duration of intact spoken segments of target words and the location of these segments at the beginnings or endings of words in sentences were varied. The amount of signal duration required for word identification and the distribution of incorrect word responses were examined. Subjects were able to identify words in spoken sentences with only word-initial or only word-final acoustic–phonetic information. In meaningful sentences, less word-initial information was required to identify words than word-final information. Error analyses indicated that both acoustic–phonetic information and syntactic contextual knowledge interacted to generate the set of hypothesized word candidates used in identification. The results provide evidence that word identification is qualitatively different in meaningful sentences than in anomalous sentences or when words are presented in isolation: That is, word identification in sentences is an interactive process that makes use of several knowledge sources. In the presence of normal sentence context, the acoustic–phonetic information in the beginnings of words is particularly effective in facilitating rapid identification of words.
Word reading speed in peripheral vision is slower when words are in close proximity of other words (Chung, 2004). This word crowding effect could arise as a consequence of interaction of low-level letter features between words, or the interaction between high-level holistic representations of words. We evaluated these two hypotheses by examining how word crowding changes for five configurations of flanking words: the control condition — flanking words were oriented upright; scrambled — letters in each flanking word were scrambled in order; horizontal-flip — each flanking word was the left-right mirror-image of the original; letter-flip — each letter of the flanking word was the left-right mirror-image of the original; and vertical-flip — each flanking word was the up-down mirror-image of the original. The low-level letter feature interaction hypothesis predicts similar word crowding effect for all the different flanker configurations, while the high-level holistic representation hypothesis predicts less word crowding effect for all the alternative flanker conditions, compared with the control condition. We found that oral reading speed for words flanked above and below by other words, measured at 10° eccentricity in the nasal field, showed the same dependence on the vertical separation between the target and its flanking words, for the various flanker configurations. The result was also similar when we rotated the flanking words by 90° to disrupt the periodic vertical pattern, which presumably is the main structure in words. The remarkably similar word crowding effect irrespective of the flanker configurations suggests that word crowding arises as a consequence of interactions of low-level letter features.
crowding; word recognition; peripheral vision; features; holistic representation
Recent research into stuttering in English has shown that function word disfluency decreases with age whereas content words disfluency increases. Also function words that precede a content word are significantly more likely to be stuttered than those that follow content words (Au-Yeung, Howell and Pilgrim, 1998; Howell, Au-Yeung and Sackin, 1999). These studies have used the concept of the phonological word as a means of investigating these phenomena. Phonological words help to determine the position of function words relative to content words and to establish the origin of the patterns of disfluency with respect to these two word classes. The current investigation analysed German speech for similar patterns. German contains many long compound nouns; on this basis, German content words are more complex than English ones. Thus, the patterns of disfluency within phonological words may differ between German and English. Results indicated three main findings. Function words that occupy an early position in a PW have higher rates of disfluency than those that occur later in a PW, this being most apparent for the youngest speakers. Second, function words that precede the content word in a PW have higher rates of disfluency than those that follow the content word. Third, young speakers exhibit high rates of disfluency on function words, but this drops off with age and, correspondingly, disfluency rate on content words increases. The patterns within phonological words may be general to German and English and can be accounted for by the EXPLAN model, assuming lexical class operates equivalently across these languages or that lexical categories contain some common characteristic that is associated with fluency across the languages.
Stuttering; German; function and content words
Multiple-word biomedical terms may point to concepts in bibliographic citations with greater precision than individual words. The barrier word method detects multiple-word terms at first encounter in narrative text. Words with low biomedical information content (prepositions, articles, etc.) are designated as barrier words; each word sequence occurring between consecutive barrier words is a candidate multiple-word term. In 1407 consecutive titles and abstracts listed under DNA, RECOMBINANT (D13.444.308.460), there were 1,275 barrier words, and 13,548 multiple-word terms were selected. Results demonstrate an effective method for detecting multiple-word terms in molecular biology narrative text.
Patterns of word use both reflect and influence a myriad of human activities and interactions. Like other entities that are reproduced and evolve, words rise or decline depending upon a complex interplay between their intrinsic properties and the environments in which they function. Using Internet discussion communities as model systems, we define the concept of a word niche as the relationship between the word and the characteristic features of the environments in which it is used. We develop a method to quantify two important aspects of the size of the word niche: the range of individuals using the word and the range of topics it is used to discuss. Controlling for word frequency, we show that these aspects of the word niche are strong determinants of changes in word frequency. Previous studies have already indicated that word frequency itself is a correlate of word success at historical time scales. Our analysis of changes in word frequencies over time reveals that the relative sizes of word niches are far more important than word frequencies in the dynamics of the entire vocabulary at shorter time scales, as the language adapts to new concepts and social groupings. We also distinguish endogenous versus exogenous factors as additional contributors to the fates of words, and demonstrate the force of this distinction in the rise of novel words. Our results indicate that short-term nonstationarity in word statistics is strongly driven by individual proclivities, including inclinations to provide novel information and to project a distinctive social identity.
Participants read lists of words and then made recognition judgments to pairs of words, each of which consisted of a prime word and a test word. At issue was the effect of a semantic relationship between the prime word and the test word on the recognition judgment to the test word. Under standard recognition conditions, semantic priming impeded correct recognition judgments to new test words and had no effect on recognition judgments to old test words. The overall effect was to reduce the level of discrimination for recognition judgments to the test word. Under conditions in which familiarity assessment would be expected to play a greater role in judgments to old test words, semantic priming facilitated those judgments. The results are explained in terms of a dual process account of recognition.
We tested recognition memory for items and associations in memory-impaired patients with bilateral lesions thought to be limited to the hippocampal region. In Experiment 1 (Combined memory test), participants studied words and then took a memory test in which studied words, new words, studied word pairs, and recombined word pairs were presented in a mixed order. In Experiment 2 (Separated memory test), participants studied single words and then took a memory test involving studied word and new words. In a separate test, they studied word pairs and then took a memory test involving studied word pairs and recombined word pairs. In both experiments, patients were impaired at memory for single items as well as memory for associations, suggesting that the hippocampus is important for both of these memory functions. In Experiment 1, patients appeared to be more impaired at associative memory than item memory. In Experiment 2, patients were similarly impaired at associative memory and item memory. These different findings are considered, including the fact that in Experiment 1 the results depended on the fact that controls produced unexpectedly low false-alarm rates to recombined pairs. We discuss single-item and associative memory from the perspective that the hippocampus and adjacent cortex work cooperatively to signal recognition and that simple dichotomies do not adequately describe the division of labor within the medial temporal lobe.
High neighborhood density reduces the speed and accuracy of spoken word recognition. The two studies reported here investigated whether Clustering Coefficient (CC) — a graph theoretic variable measuring the degree to which a word’s neighbors are neighbors of one another, has similar effects on spoken word recognition. In Experiment 1, we found that high CC words were identified less accurately when spectrally degraded than low CC words. In Experiment 2, using a word repetition procedure, we observed longer response latencies for high CC words compared to low CC words. Taken together, the results of both studies indicate that higher CC leads to slower and less accurate spoken word recognition. The results are discussed in terms of activation-plus-competition models of spoken word recognition.
clustering coefficient; complex networks; mental lexicon; and graph theory
Online comprehension of naturally spoken and perceptually degraded words was assessed in 95 children ages 12 to 31 months. The time course of word recognition was measured by monitoring eye movements as children looked at pictures while listening to familiar target words presented in unaltered, time-compressed, and low-pass-filtered forms. Success in word recognition varied with age and level of vocabulary development, and with the perceptual integrity of the word. Recognition was best overall for unaltered words, lower for time-compressed words, and significantly lower in low-pass-filtered words. Reaction times were fastest in compressed, followed by unaltered and filtered words. Results showed that children were able to recognize familiar words in challenging conditions and that productive vocabulary size was more sensitive than chronological age as a predictor of children’s accuracy and speed in word recognition.
Poor hearing acuity reduces memory for spoken words, even when the words are presented with enough clarity for correct recognition. An "effortful hypothesis" suggests that the perceptual effort needed for recognition draws from resources that would otherwise be available for encoding the word in memory. To assess this hypothesis, we conducted a behavioral task requiring immediate free recall of word-lists, some of which contained an acoustically masked word that was just above perceptual threshold. Results show that masking a word reduces the recall of that word and words prior to it, as well as weakening the linking associations between the masked and prior words. In contrast, recall probabilities of words following the masked word are not affected. To account for this effect we conducted computational simulations testing two classes of models: associative linking models and short-term memory buffer models. Only a model that integrated both contextual linking and buffer components matched all of the effects of masking observed in our behavioral data. In this Linking-Buffer model, the masked word disrupts a short-term memory buffer, causing associative links of words in the buffer to be weakened, affecting memory for the masked word and the word prior to it, while allowing links of words following the masked word to be spared. We suggest that these data account for the so-called "effortful hypothesis", where distorted input has a detrimental impact on prior information stored in short-term memory.
modeling; simulations; recall; word lists; associations
The extent to which target words were predictable from prior context was varied: half of the target words were predictable and the other half were unpredictable. In addition, the length of the target word varied: the target words were short (4–6 letters), medium (7–9 letters), or long (10–12 letters). Length and predictability both yielded strong effects on the probability of skipping the target words and on the amount of time readers fixated the target words (when they were not skipped). However, there was no interaction in any of the measures examined for either skipping or fixation time. The results demonstrate that word predictability (due to contextual constraint) and word length have strong and independent influences on word skipping and fixation durations. Furthermore, since the long words extended beyond the word identification span, the data indicate that skipping can occur on the basis of partial information in relation to word identity.
This paper describes an initial study of the effect of focused attention on phonological speech errors. In three experiments, participants recited four-word tongue-twisters, and focused attention on one (or none) of the words. The attended word was singled out differently in each experiment; participants were under instructions to either avoid errors on the attended word, to stress it, or to say it silently. The experiments showed that all methods of attending to a word decreased errors on that word, while increasing errors on the surrounding words. However, this error increase did not result from a relative increase in phonemic migrations originating from the attended word. This pattern is inconsistent with conceptualizing attention either as higher activation of the attended word or greater inhibition of the unattended words throughout the production of the sequence. Instead, it is consistent with a model which presumes that attention exerts its effect at the time of production of the attended word, without lingering effects on the past or the future.
Speech errors; Attention; Phoneme migration; Cognitive control
Neighborhood density—the number of words that sound similar to a given word (Luce & Pisoni, 1998)—influences word-learning in native English speaking children and adults (Storkel, 2004; Storkel, Armbruster, & Hogan, 2006): novel words with many similar sounding English words (i.e., dense neighborhood) are learned more quickly than novel words with few similar sounding English words (i.e., sparse neighborhood). The present study examined how neighborhood density influences word-learning in native English speaking adults learning Spanish as a foreign language. Students in their third-semester of Spanish language classes learned advanced Spanish words that sounded similar to many known Spanish words (i.e., dense neighborhood) or sounded similar to few known Spanish words (i.e., sparse neighborhood). In three word-learning tasks, performance was better for Spanish words with dense rather than sparse neighborhoods. These results suggest that a similar mechanism may be used to learn new words in a native and a foreign language.
neighborhood density; Spanish; word-learning; adults
The problem of finding the shortest absent words in DNA data has been recently addressed, and algorithms for its solution have been described. It has been noted that longer absent words might also be of interest, but the existing algorithms only provide generic absent words by trivially extending the shortest ones.
We show how absent words relate to the repetitions and structure of the data, and define a new and larger class of absent words, called minimal absent words, that still captures the essential properties of the shortest absent words introduced in recent works. The words of this new class are minimal in the sense that if their leftmost or rightmost character is removed, then the resulting word is no longer an absent word. We describe an algorithm for generating minimal absent words that, in practice, runs in approximately linear time. An implementation of this algorithm is publicly available at .
Because the set of minimal absent words that we propose is much larger than the set of the shortest absent words, it is potentially more useful for applications that require a richer variety of absent words. Nevertheless, the number of minimal absent words is still manageable since it grows at most linearly with the string size, unlike generic absent words that grow exponentially. Both the algorithm and the concepts upon which it depends shed additional light on the structure of absent words and complement the existing studies on the topic.
We used an alternating treatments design to compare the effects of active student response error correction and no-response error correction during sight word instruction. Six students with developmental disabilities were provided one-to-one daily sight word instruction on eight sets of 20 unknown words. Each set of 20 words was divided randomly into two equal groups. Student errors during instruction on one group of words were immediately followed by the teacher modeling the word and the student repeating it (active student response instruction). Errors on the other group of words were immediately followed by the teacher modeling the word while the student attended to the word card (no-response instruction). For all 6 students, the active student response error-correction procedure resulted in more words read correctly during instruction, same-day tests, next-day tests, 2-week maintenance tests, and generality tests (words read in sentences).
We used an alternating treatments design to compare the effects of two procedures for correcting student errors during sight word drills. Each of the 5 participating students with developmental disabilities was provided daily one-to-one instruction on individualized sets of 14 unknown words. Each week's new set of unknown words was divided randomly into two groups of equal size. Student errors during instruction were immediately followed by whole-word error correction (the teacher stated the complete word and the student repeated it) for one group of words and by phonetic-prompt error correction (the teacher provided phonetic prompts) for the other group of words. During instruction, all 5 students read correctly a higher percentage of whole-word corrected words than phonetic-prompt corrected words. Data from same-day tests (immediately following instruction) and next-day tests showed the students learned more words taught with whole-word error correction than they learned with phonetic-prompt error correction.
Phonological words (PWs) are defined as having a single word that acts as a nucleus and an optional number of function words preceding and following that act as satellites. Content and function words are one way of specifying the nucleus and satellites of PW. PW, defined in this way, have been found useful in the characterization of patterns of disfluency over ages for both English and Spanish speakers who stutter. Since content words carry stress in English, PWs segmented using content words as the nucleus would correspond to a large extent with PWs segmented that use a stressed word as the nucleus. This correlation between word type and stress does not apply to the same extent in Spanish. Samples of Spanish from speakers of different ages were segmented into PWs using a stressed, rather than a content, word as the nucleus and unstressed, rather than function, words as satellites. PWs were partitioned into those that were common to the two segmentation methods (common set) and those that differed (different set). There were two separate segmentations when PWs differed, those appropriate to content word nuclei, and those appropriate to stressed word nuclei. The two types of segmentation on the different set were analyzed separately to see whether one, both or neither method led to similar patterns of disfluency to those reported when content words were used as nuclei in English and Spanish. Generally speaking, the patterns of stuttering in PW found in English applied to all three analyses (common and the two on the different set) in Spanish. Thus, neither segmentation method showed a marked superiority in predicting the patterns of disfluency over age groups for the different set of Spanish data. It is argued that stressed or content word status can lead to a word being a nucleus and that there may be other factors (e.g. speech rate) that underlie stressed words and content words that affect the words around these PW nuclei in a similar way.
Development stuttering; Spanish; metrical influences on disfluency; lexical influences on disfluency; EXPLAN theory
The purpose of this study was to examine (a) the role of neighborhood density (number of words that are phonologically similar to a target word) and frequency variables on the stuttering-like disfluencies of preschool children who stutter, and (b) whether these variables have an effect on the type of stuttering-like disfluency produced.
A 500+ word speech sample was obtained from each participant (N = 15). Each stuttered word was randomly paired with the firstly produced word that closely matched it in grammatical class, familiarity, and number of syllables/phonemes. Frequency, neighborhood density, and neighborhood frequency values were obtained for the stuttered and fluent words from an online database.
Findings revealed that stuttered words were lower in frequency and neighborhood frequency than fluent words. Words containing part-word repetitions and sound prolongations were also lower in frequency and/or neighborhood frequency than fluent words, but these frequency variables did not have an effect on single-syllable word repetitions. Neighborhood density failed to influence the susceptibility of words to stuttering, as well as the type of stuttering-like disfluency produced.
In general, findings suggest that neighborhood and frequency variables not only influence the fluency with which words are produced in speech, but also have an impact on the type of stuttering-like disfluency produced.
stuttering; language; phonological neighborhood; frequency; children
Eye movements were monitored in 4 experiments that explored the role of parafoveal word length in reading. The experiments employed a type of compound word where the deletion of a letter results in 2 short words (e.g., backhand, back and). The boundary technique (K. Rayner, 1975) was employed to manipulate word length information in the parafovea. Accuracy of the parafoveal word length preview significantly affected landing positions and fixation durations. This disruption was larger for 2-word targets, but the results demonstrated that this interaction was not due to the morphological status of the target words. Manipulation of sentence context also demonstrated that parafoveal word length information can be used in combination with sentence context to narrow down lexical candidates. The 4 experiments converge in demonstrating that an important role of parafoveal word length information is to direct the eyes to the center of the parafoveal word.
eye movements; reading; parafoveal length information
In this Perspective Article we assess the usefulness of Google's new word frequencies for word recognition research (lexical decision and word naming). We find that, despite the massive corpus on which the Google estimates are based (131 billion words from books published in the United States alone), the Google American English frequencies explain 11% less of the variance in the lexical decision times from the English Lexicon Project (Balota et al., 2007) than the SUBTLEX-US word frequencies, based on a corpus of 51 million words from film and television subtitles. Further analyses indicate that word frequencies derived from recent books (published after 2000) are better predictors of word processing times than frequencies based on the full corpus, and that word frequencies based on fiction books predict word processing times better than word frequencies based on the full corpus. The most predictive word frequencies from Google still do not explain more of the variance in word recognition times of undergraduate students and old adults than the subtitle-based word frequencies.
word frequency; lexical decision; Google Books ngrams; SUBTLEX
A central question in spoken word recognition research is whether words are recognized relationally, in the context of other words in the mental lexicon [1, 2]. The current research evaluated metrics for measuring the influence of the mental lexicon on visually perceived (lipread) spoken word recognition. Lexical competition (the extent to which perceptually similar words influence recognition of a stimulus word) was quantified using metrics that are well-established in the literature, as well as a novel statistical method for calculating perceptual confusability, based on the Phi-square statistic.
The Phi-square statistic proved an effective measure for assessing lexical competition and explained significant variance in visual spoken word recognition beyond that accounted for by traditional metrics. Because these values include the influence of all words in the lexicon (rather than only perceptually very similar words), it suggests that even perceptually distant words may receive some activation, and therefore provide competition, during spoken word recognition. This work supports and extends earlier research  that proposed a common recognition system underlying auditory and visual spoken word recognition and provides support for the use of the Phi-square statistic for quantifying lexical competition.
Lipreading; spoken word recognition; lexical competition; lexical neighborhoods
A fundamental problem in the study of human spoken word recognition concerns the structural relations among the sound patterns of words in memory and the effects these relations have on spoken word recognition. In the present investigation, computational and experimental methods were employed to address a number of fundamental issues related to the representation and structural organization of spoken words in the mental lexicon and to lay the groundwork for a model of spoken word recognition.
Using a computerized lexicon consisting of transcriptions of 20,000 words, similarity neighborhoods for each of the transcriptions were computed. Among the variables of interest in the computation of the similarity neighborhoods were: 1) the number of words occurring in a neighborhood, 2) the degree of phonetic similarity among the words, and 3) the frequencies of occurrence of the words in the language. The effects of these variables on auditory word recognition were examined in a series of behavioral experiments employing three experimental paradigms: perceptual identification of words in noise, auditory lexical decision, and auditory word naming.
The results of each of these experiments demonstrated that the number and nature of words in a similarity neighborhood affect the speed and accuracy of word recognition. A neighborhood probability rule was developed that adequately predicted identification performance. This rule, based on Luce's (1959) choice rule, combines stimulus word intelligibility, neighborhood confusability, and frequency into a single expression. Based on this rule, a model of auditory word recognition, the neighborhood activation model, was proposed. This model describes the effects of similarity neighborhood structure on the process of discriminating among the acoustic-phonetic representations of words in memory. The results of these experiments have important implications for current conceptions of auditory word recognition in normal and hearing impaired populations of children and adults.