Talk at Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics


Dr Jenni Rodd will be giving a talk entitled “How do we understand what words mean?” at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, The Netherlands on Tuesday 16th May (15:45-17:00).


Being able to understand exactly what each word in a sentence means is an essential component of language comprehension. This is a relatively challenging task because the vast majority of common words have multiple possible interpretations. The conventional view of how listeners/readers disambiguate words with multiple meanings emphasizes just two cues in facilitating access to the correct meaning: (i) the immediate sentence context (i.e. the dog’s/tree’s bark) and (ii) the relative frequencies of the two meanings. Here I propose that fluent comprehension requires that listeners rapidly integrate a far richer set of statistical cues that point to which meaning the speaker was more likely to have intended. Specifically, I present data from both large scale web-based experiments and lab-based experiments that demonstrate that listeners’ make use of (i) their recent and longer-term experience with the ambiguous word itself, and (ii) their knowledge about the linguistic background of the speaker.

Further details are available here: