Skip to main content
Skip to main content

Psycholinguistics

Successful language processing requires speaker and hearer to dynamically create richly structured representations within a few hundred milliseconds of encountering each new word.

Our group asks how this feat is achieved, whether it is achieved in the same fashion across languages with varying word order and morphological markers, what are the possible neural encoding mechanisms for richly structured information and how the dynamics of language processing differ in adult native speakers, child and adult language learners, or in atypical learners.
 
Some distinctive features of the Maryland group include its expertise in cross-language research (e.g., recent studies on Japanese, Hindi, Mandarin, Portuguese, Basque, Russian, American Sign Language and Spanish); its use of diverse tools to investigate language-related processes (reading time, eye-movement measures, EEG and MEG measures of millisecond-grain brain activity and fMRI measures of brain localization); and its work involving neuro-computational modeling of language processing and studies of developmental and atypical populations. The rich network of connections between investigators make it feasible to try to seamlessly align insights from formal grammars with findings from psycho/neurolinguistics and computational neuroscience, often in ways that we could not have imagined a few years ago.
 
Research in psycholinguistics at Maryland is not pursued as a separate enterprise, but rather is closely integrated into all research areas of the department and the broader language science community. Weekly research group meetings primarily feature student presentations of in-progress research and typically attract 20-30 people.

Lingering effects of disfluent material on the comprehension of garden path sentences

Do we experience garden path effects when a disfluent speaker replaces one verb with another (as in "chosen, uh, I mean selected") and only one of the two yields the garden-path ambiguity?

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Ellen Lau
Dates:

In two experiments, we tested for lingering effects of verb replacement disfluencies on the processing of garden path sentences that exhibit the main verb/reduced relative (MV/RR) ambiguity. Participants heard sentences with revisions like "The little girl chosen, uh, selected for the role celebrated with her parents and friends." We found that the syntactic ambiguity associated with the reparandum verb involved in the disfluency (here "chosen") had an influence on later parsing: Garden path sentences that included such revisions were more likely to be judged grammatical if the reparandum verb was structurally unambiguous. Conversely, ambiguous non-garden path sentences were more likely to be judged ungrammatical if the structurally unambiguous disfluency verb was inconsistent with the final reading. Results support a model of disfluency processing in which the syntactic frame associated with the replacement verb ‘‘overlays’’ the previous verb’s structure rather than actively deleting the already-built tree.

http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1080/0169096044400014" target="_blank" class="button">Read More about Lingering effects of disfluent material on the comprehension of garden path sentences

A 'bag-of-arguments' mechanism for initial verb predictions

Wing Yee Chow and collaborators propose that predictions of an upcoming verb based on a preceding argument NP are based initially on the meaning of its head noun,and only later on the meaning of its grammatical relation.

Linguistics

Dates:
Previous studies have shown that comprehenders use rich contextual information to anticipate upcoming input on the fly, but less is known about how comprehenders integrate different sources of information to generate predictions in real time. The current study examines the time course with which the lexical meaning and structural roles of preverbal arguments impact comprehenders’ lexical semantic predictions about an upcoming verb in two event-related potential (ERP) experiments that use the N400 amplitude as a measure of online predictability. Experiment 1 showed that the N400 was sensitive to predictability when the verb’s cloze probability was reduced by substituting one of the arguments (e.g. “The superintendent overheard which tenant/realtor the landlord had evicted ... ”), but not when the verb’s cloze probability was reduced by simply swapping the roles of the arguments (e.g. “The restaurant owner forgot which customer/waitress the waitress/customer had served...”). Experiment 2 showed that argument substitution elicited an N400 effect even when the substituted argument appeared elsewhere in the sentence, indicating that verb predictions are specifically driven by the arguments in the same clause as the verb, rather than by a simple “bag-of-words” mechanism. We propose that verb predictions initially rely on a “bag-of-arguments” mechanism, which specifically relies on the lexical meaning, but not the structural roles, of the arguments in a clause. 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23273798.2015.1066832" target="_blank" class="button">Read More about A 'bag-of-arguments' mechanism for initial verb predictions

A Direct Comparison of N400 Effects of Predictability and Incongruity in Adjective-Noun Combination

The N400 is modulated both by association and by predictability: but independently? Only slightly, show Ellen and her collaborators, suggesting that its senstivity to both does not come just from trouble integrating a word with its prior context.

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Ellen Lau
Dates:
Previous work has shown that the N400 ERP component is elicited by all words, whether presented in isolation or in structured contexts, and that its amplitude is modulated by semantic association and contextual predictability. What is less clear is the extent to which the N400 response is modulated by semantic incongruity when predictability is held constant. In the current study we examine N400 modulation associated with independent manipulations of predictability and congruity in an adjective-noun paradigm that allows us to precisely control predictability through corpus counts. Our results demonstrate small N400 effects of semantic congruity (yellow bag vs. innocent bag), and much more robust N400 effects of predictability (runny nose vs. dainty nose) under the same conditions. These data argue against unitary N400 theories according to which N400 effects of both predictability and incongruity reflect a common process such as degree of integration difficulty, as large N400 effects of predictability were observed in the absence of large N400 effects of incongruity. However, the data are consistent with some versions of unitary ‘facilitated access’ N400 theories, as well as multiple-generator accounts according to which the N400 can be independently modulated by facilitated conceptual/lexical access (as with predictability) and integration diffculty (as with incongruity, perhaps to a greater extent in full sentential contexts).

http://dx.doi. org/10.1525/collabra.40" target="_blank" class="button">Read More about A Direct Comparison of N400 Effects of Predictability and Incongruity in Adjective-Noun Combination

Primary Faculty

Naomi Feldman

Associate Professor, Linguistics

1413 A Marie Mount Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-5800

William Idsardi

Professor, Linguistics

1401 A Marie Mount Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-8376

Ellen Lau

Associate Professor, Linguistics

3416 E Marie Mount Hall
College Park MD, 20742

Jeffrey Lidz

Professor, Linguistics

1413 Marie Mount Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-8220

Colin Phillips

Professor, Linguistics

1413F Marie Mount Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-3082

Andrea Zukowski

Research Scientist, Linguistics

1413 Marie Mount Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-5388

Secondary Faculty

Valentine Hacquard

Professor, Linguistics

1401 F Marie Mount Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-4935

Maria Polinsky

Professor, Linguistics

1417A Marie Mount Hall
College Park MD, 20742

Alexander Williams

Associate Professor, Linguistics, Philosophy

1401 D Marie Mount Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-1607