Blog Archives

How does similarity-based interference affect the choice of referring expression?

We tested a cue-based retrieval model that predicts how similarity between discourse entities influences the speaker’s choice of referring expressions. In Experiment 1, speakers produced fewer pronouns (relative to repeated noun phrases) when the competitor was in the same situation as the referent (both on a horse) rather than in a different situation (only the referent on a horse). The situational congruence had a larger impact when it was relevant to the to-be-described action (getting off a horse) than otherwise (taking off a hat), suggesting that the effect of similarity is modulated by its relevance to other conceptual representations held by the speaker. Experiment 2 found an effect of the competitor’s similarity regardless of whether pronouns were ambiguous or not, suggesting that the effect is independent of ambiguity avoidance and results from speaker-internal production constraints.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

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Conscious intention to speak proactively facilitates lexical access during overt object naming

The present study explored when and how the top-down intention to speak influences the language production process. We did so by comparing the brain’s electrical response for a variable known to affect lexical access, namely word frequency, during overt object naming and non-verbal object categorization. We found that during naming, the event-related brain potentials elicited for objects with low frequency names started to diverge from those with high frequency names as early as 152 ms after stimulus onset, while during non-verbal categorization the same frequency comparison appeared 200 ms later eliciting a qualitatively different brain response. Thus, only when participants had the conscious intention to name an object the brain rapidly engaged in lexical access. The data offer evidence that top-down intention to speak proactively facilitates the activation of words related to perceived objects.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

Lexical and syntactic representations in closely related languages: Evidence from Cantonese–Mandarin bilinguals

Bilinguals appear to have shared syntactic representations for similar constructions between languages but retain distinct representations for noncognate translation-equivalents (Schoonbaert, Hartsuiker, & Pickering, 2007). We inquire whether bilinguals have more integrated representations of cognate translation-equivalents. To investigate this, we report two structural priming experiments in which participants heard dative sentences in Mandarin or Cantonese and described pictures using Mandarin (Experiment 1) or Cantonese (Experiment 2). We found that cognate verbs between the prime and the target led to a smaller boost than same verbs. This difference in priming could not be attributed to more phonological overlap between same verbs (i.e., identical) than between cognate verbs (i.e., similar but not identical). These results suggest that cognate verbs have separate rather than shared lemma representations across languages, even though their associated syntactic information appears to be collectively represented. Furthermore, we found an advantage for within-language priming over between-language priming. We interpreted this advantage as the result of a language node passing activation to all the lemmas linked to it. Implications for bilingual lexical and syntactic representation and processing are discussed.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

A statistical model of the grammatical choices in child production of dative sentences

Focusing on children’s production of the dative alternation in English, we examine whether children’s choices are influenced by the same factors that influence adults’ choices, and whether, like adults, they are sensitive to multiple factors simultaneously. We do so by using mixed-effect regression models to analyse child and child-directed datives extracted from the Child Language Data Exchange System corpus. Such models allow us to investigate the collective and independent effects of multiple factors simultaneously. The results show that children’s choices are influenced by multiple factors (length of theme and recipient, nominal expression type of both, syntactic persistence) and pattern similarly to child-directed speech. Our findings demonstrate parallels between child and adult speech, consistent with recent acquisition research suggesting that there is a usage-based continuity between child and adult grammars. Furthermore, they highlight the utility of analysing children’s speech from a multi-variable perspective, and portray a learner who is sensitive to the multiple cues present in her input.

from Language and Cognitive Processes

Conceptual influences on word order and voice in sentence production: Evidence from Japanese

Two experiments using a sentence recall task tested the effect of animacy on syntactic processing in Japanese sentence production. Experiment 1 and 2 showed that when Japanese native speakers recalled transitive sentences, they were more likely to assign animate entities earlier positions in the sentence than inanimate entities. In addition, Experiment 2 showed that they were more likely to recall animate entities than inanimate entities as sentence subjects in active and passive sentences. Thus conceptual information influenced both the way in which grammatical functions were assigned and choice of word order. We consider the implications of these findings for theories of language production.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

Severe Traumatic Brain Injury, Frontal Lesions, and Social Aspects of Language Use: A Study of French-Speaking Adults

The purpose of this study was to gain insight into the social (pragmatic) aspects of language use by French-speaking individuals with frontal lesions following a severe traumatic brain injury. Eleven participants with traumatic brain injury performed tasks in three areas of communication: production (interview situation), comprehension (direct requests, conventional indirect requests, and hints), and metapragmatic knowledge. The results of the patients pointed out some strengths (turn-taking in production, and request comprehension, including hints and the speaker’s intention) and some weaknesses (topic maintenance in production and metapragmatic knowledge). The patients’ good comprehension of requests and their difficulty expressing metapragmatic knowledge suggests that they differ from controls in how they “explain the world”: their knowledge of the event sequence was not based on verbally expressible knowledge about the relationship between the structural characteristics of a request utterance and those of its social production context. The pragmatic skills of persons with traumatic brain injury seem to vary across tasks: these individuals have specific strengths and weaknesses in different domains. In addition, marked interindividual differences were noted among the patients: three of them had only one weak point, topic maintenance. These interindividual differences were not systematically linked to performance on executive function tests, but lesion unilaterality (right or left) seems to help preserve patients’ pragmatic and metapragmatic skills. The discussion stresses the need to take each patient’s strengths and weaknesses into account in designing remediation programs.

from the Journal of Communication Disorders

Lexical representation of phonological variants: Evidence from pseudohomophone effects in different regiolects

This study examined the lexical representation of words with two pronunciation variants. We tested whether both the schwa and reduced variants of French words are stored as lexical entries. The results of four experiments in which speakers named pseudohomophones and pseudowords show an advantage for pseudohomophones over matched pseudowords for both variants. As the pseudohomophone effect is assumed to reflect the activation of phonologically matching stored phonological representations, these results suggest that both variants of schwa words are stored. Importantly, the pseudohomophone effect is found for alternating words (Experiments 1 and 2) and for non-alternating words when the non-produced variant corresponds to the word’s spelling (Experiment 3) or is frequently encountered in the speech of speakers of other regiolects (Experiment 4). These findings extend the scope of our previous proposal that words with two variants are stored with two lexemes. This conclusion needs to be integrated in word production models.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

A statistical model of the grammatical choices in child production of dative sentences

Focusing on children’s production of the dative alternation in English, we examine whether children’s choices are influenced by the same factors that influence adults’ choices, and whether, like adults, they are sensitive to multiple factors simultaneously. We do so by using mixed-effect regression models to analyse child and child-directed datives extracted from the Child Language Data Exchange System corpus. Such models allow us to investigate the collective and independent effects of multiple factors simultaneously. The results show that children’s choices are influenced by multiple factors (length of theme and recipient, nominal expression type of both, syntactic persistence) and pattern similarly to child-directed speech. Our findings demonstrate parallels between child and adult speech, consistent with recent acquisition research suggesting that there is a usage-based continuity between child and adult grammars. Furthermore, they highlight the utility of analysing children’s speech from a multi-variable perspective, and portray a learner who is sensitive to the multiple cues present in her input.

from Language and Cognitive Processes

Speech errors of amnesic H.M.: Unlike everyday slips-of-the-tongue

Three language production studies indicate that amnesic H.M. produces speech errors unlike everyday slips-of-the-tongue. Study 1 was a naturalistic task: H.M. and six controls closely matched for age, education, background and IQ described what makes captioned cartoons funny. Nine judges rated the descriptions blind to speaker identity and gave reliably more negative ratings for coherence, vagueness, comprehensibility, grammaticality, and adequacy of humor-description for H.M. than the controls. Study 2 examined “major errors”, a novel type of speech error that is uncorrected and reduces the coherence, grammaticality, accuracy and/or comprehensibility of an utterance. The results indicated that H.M. produced seven types of major errors reliably more often than controls: substitutions, omissions, additions, transpositions, reading errors, free associations, and accuracy errors. These results contradict recent claims that H.M. retains unconscious or implicit language abilities and produces spoken discourse that is “sophisticated,” “intact” and “without major errors.” Study 3 examined whether three classical types of errors (omissions, additions, and substitutions of words and phrases) differed for H.M. versus controls in basic nature and relative frequency by error type. The results indicated that omissions, and especially multi-word omissions, were relatively more common for H.M. than the controls; and substitutions violated the syntactic class regularity (whereby, e.g., nouns substitute with nouns but not verbs) relatively more often for H.M. than the controls. These results suggest that H.M.’s medial temporal lobe damage impaired his ability to rapidly form new connections between units in the cortex, a process necessary to form complete and coherent internal representations for novel sentence-level plans. In short, different brain mechanisms underlie H.M.’s major errors (which reflect incomplete and incoherent sentence-level plans) versus everyday slips-of-the tongue (which reflect errors in activating pre-planned units in fully intact sentence-level plans). Implications of the results of Studies 1–3 are discussed for systems theory, binding theory and relational memory theories.

from Cortex

Aging and the Vulnerability of Speech to Dual Task Demands

Tracking a digital pursuit rotor task was used to measure dual task costs of language production by young and older adults. Tracking performance by both groups was affected by dual task demands: time on target declined and tracking error increased as dual task demands increased from the baseline condition to a moderately demanding dual task condition to a more demanding dual task condition. When dual task demands were moderate, older adults’ speech rate declined but their fluency, grammatical complexity, and content were unaffected. When the dual task was more demanding, older adults’ speech, like young adults’ speech, became highly fragmented, ungrammatical, and incoherent. Vocabulary, working memory, processing speed, and inhibition affected vulnerability to dual task costs: vocabulary provided some protection for sentence length and grammaticality, working memory conferred some protection for grammatical complexity, and processing speed provided some protection for speech rate, propositional density, coherence, and lexical diversity. Further, vocabulary and working memory capacity provided more protection for older adults than for young adults although the protective effect of processing speed was somewhat reduced for older adults as compared to the young adults.

from Psychology and Aging

The role of morpho-phonological factors in subject-predicate gender agreement in Hebrew

The present study investigated the role of overt phonological realisation of morphological marking on the implementation of subject-predicate agreement in language production. This study was conducted in Hebrew, and focused on subject-predicate gender agreement for inanimate nouns. In Hebrew, singular masculine forms are usually morphologically unmarked, whereas singular feminine forms are morphologically marked. Although the system is generally consistent, it includes examples of feminine forms which are not marked with feminine suffixes, i.e., unmarked feminine forms. Likewise, there are particular suffixes that usually denote masculine or feminine plurals. However, there are examples of masculine plurals which are inflected irregularly, with a feminine suffix. We took advantage of these characteristics of Hebrew to manipulate morphological factors in the process of agreement production. Using a sentence-completion task for complex noun phrases, we tested the effect of the absence of overt gender marking (Exp. 1) and misleading gender marking (Exp. 2) of the local noun on the frequency of agreement errors. The results revealed that whereas the absence of overt gender marking did not affect the frequency of agreement errors, overt misleading gender marking did affect it. The results are discussed in relation to the distinction between inflectional and derivational structures and their relevance to the process of computing agreement in the Marking and Morphing model (Eberhard, Cutting, & Bock, 2005).

from Language and Cognitive Processes

Genetic predisposition and sensory experience in language development: Evidence from cochlear-implanted children

Recent neurobiological studies have advanced the hypothesis that language development is not continuously plastic but is governed by biological constraints that may be modified by experience within a particular time window. This hypothesis is tested based on spontaneous speech data from deaf cochlear-implanted (CI) children with access to linguistic stimuli at different developmental times. Language samples of nine children who received a CI between 5 and 19 months are analysed for linguistic measures representing different stages of language development. These include canonical babbling ratios, vocabulary diversity, and functional elements such as determiners. The results show that language development is positively related to the age at which children get first access to linguistic input and that later access to language is associated with a slower-than-normal language-learning rate. As such, the positive effect of early experience on the functional organisation of the brain in language processes is confirmed by behavioural performance.

from Language and Cognitive Processes

Language lateralization in left-handed patients with schizophrenia

We evaluated hemispheric lateralization of language production in non-right-handed (NRH) patients with schizophrenia compared with matched right-handed (RH) patients, NRH control, and RH control subjects. First, the ability to generate verbs during overt training trials was checked in 78 subjects. They were then evaluated with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing a covert verb generation task. No significant interactions between illness and handedness and no illness effect were observed in functional asymmetry. There was significantly less leftward asymmetry of the inferior frontal, precentral, and supramarginal gyri as well as the intra-parietal sulcus in non-right-handers compared to right-handers taking into account the task performances. Our findings suggested that decreased lateralization for language production was more closely related to handedness than to schizophrenia.

from Neuropsychologia

Comparing Electrophysiological Correlates of Word Production in Immediate and Delayed Naming Through the Analysis of Word Age of Acquisition Effects

Most EEG studies analysing speech production with event related brain potential (ERP) have adopted silent metalinguistic tasks or delayed or tacit picture naming in order to avoid possible artefacts during motor preparation. A central issue in the interpretation of these results is whether the processes involved in those tasks are comparable to those involved in overt speech production. In the present study we addressed a methodological issue about the integration of stimulus-aligned and response-aligned ERPs in immediate overt picture naming in comparison to delayed production, coupled with a theoretical point on the effect of word Age of Acquisition (AoA). High density EEG recordings were used and waveform analyses and spatio-temporal segmentation were combined on stimulus-aligned and response-aligned ERPs. The same sequence and duration of topographic maps appeared in the immediate and delayed production until around 350 ms after picture onset, revealing similar encoding processes until the beginning of phonological encoding, but modulations linked to word AoA were only observed in the immediate production. Considering stimulus-aligned and response-aligned ERPs together allowed to identify that a stable topography starting around 350 ms lasts 30 ms longer for late-acquired than for early-acquired words. This difference falls within the time-window of phonological encoding and its modulation can be linked to the longer production latencies for late-acquired words.

from Brain Topography

Listening to yourself is like listening to others: External, but not internal, verbal self-monitoring is based on speech perception

Theories of verbal self-monitoring generally assume an internal (pre-articulatory) monitoring channel, but there is debate about whether this channel relies on speech perception or on production-internal mechanisms. Perception-based theories predict that listening to one’s own inner speech has similar behavioural consequences as listening to someone else’s speech. Our experiment therefore registered eye-movements while speakers named objects accompanied by phonologically related or unrelated written words. The data showed that listening to one’s own speech drives eye-movements to phonologically related words, just as listening to someone else’s speech does in perception experiments. The time-course of these eye-movements was very similar to that in other-perception (starting 300 ms post-articulation), which demonstrates that these eye-movements were driven by the perception of overt speech, not inner speech. We conclude that external, but not internal monitoring, is based on speech perception.

from Language and Cognitive Processes