Lab Outing to Greenwich

On Po-Heng (Bobby) Chen’s last day in the UK before returning to complete his PhD at National University Taiwan, we went on an outing to Greenwich.

We got the boat down from Embankment before eating food from Greenwich Market in the park. We then walked to admire the view from the top of the hill and visited the Painted Hall, which turned out to have some super freaky visual illusions – legs, eyes and brackets that appear to move as you walk around the room. A great day was had by all. Bobby – we’re going to miss you!

Word Lab visit Experimental Psychology Society

In March 2022 most of the lab travelled to Keele University for the meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society. This was our first in-person conference since the start of COVID. It was really lovely to see so many familiar faces and of course to get to know some new ones.

Rebecca Norman presented her work on how contextual diversity during word learning through reading benefits generalisation of learned
meanings to new contexts.

Po-Heng (Bobby) Chen presented some EEG work conducted with Kara Federmeier (University of Illinoisa) and Chia-Lin Lee (National Taiwan University: Reprioritizing the weaker meaning enhances the post-N400 frontal positivity.

See here for the full programme and abstracts.

César Gutiérrez presenting at Psychonomic Society

Register for free to access this talk:

A single exposure to both meanings of ambiguous words helps rather than hinders processing of subordinate meanings

Many English words have multiple meanings. Less frequent (subordinate) meanings are harder to access than dominant meanings. Studies have shown that one encounter with subordinate meanings reduces this difficulty. However, natural language exposure includes both meanings and this could increase processing difficulty due to competition. In Experiment 1 60 native English speakers read natural sentences containing ambiguous words (one per meaning) and control sentences containing unambiguous words. Results from a semantic relatedness post-test showed that mixed exposure made subsequent processing of subordinate meanings non-significantly faster and significantly more accurate, with no change for dominant meanings and unambiguous words. Experiment 2 (preregistered, N=182) replicated the mixed-training boost for subordinate meanings in both reaction times and error rates. In addition, we found an unexpected training benefit for the unambiguous items. These results reveal that exposure to both meanings of an ambiguous word enhances performance for the more difficult subordinate meaning.

University of Oxford: Applied Linguistics Lunchtime Seminar Series

Prof Jenni Rodd is giving a talk at the Department of Education, University of Oxford

24th May 2021 12-1pm.

‘Settling Into Semantic Space: An Ambiguity-Focused Account of Word-Meaning

Most words are ambiguous: individual wordforms (e.g., “run”) can map onto multiple different interpretations depending on their sentence context (e.g., “the athlete/politician/river runs”). Models of word-meaning access must therefore explain how listeners and readers are able to rapidly settle on a single, contextually appropriate meaning for each word that they encounter. I will present a new account of word-meaning access that places semantic disambiguation at its core.

The model has three key characteristics. (i) Lexical-semantic knowledge is viewed as a high-dimensional space; familiar word meanings correspond to stable states within this lexical-semantic space. (ii) Multiple linguistic and paralinguistic cues can influence the settling process by which the system resolves on one of these familiar meanings. (iii) Learning mechanisms play a vital role in facilitating rapid word-meaning access by shaping and maintaining high quality lexical-semantic knowledge.

More information here

Conference Presentation: Experimental Psychology Society, January 2021

Reading rich semantic sentences to improve disambiguation skills in adults

César Gutiérrez Silva, Joanne Taylor, Lena Blott & Jennifer Rodd

University College London

In English most words have multiple meanings and research shows that single encounters with one meaning can increase subsequent usage. We evaluated how more naturalistic exposure including both dominant and subordinate ambiguous word meanings influences subsequent processing. 60 native English speakers were recruited online. They read and answered questions about sentences from the British National Corpus: two sentences for 14 ambiguous words, one including the dominant and one the subordinate meaning, and two sentences for 14 unambiguous words. In a subsequent semantic relatedness task, participants evaluated if probe words were related in meaning to target words. Probes included trained and untrained items, and ambiguous word probes either related to the dominant or subordinate meaning of targets. Judgements were faster and more accurate to target words that were related to probe word subordinate meanings for trained relative to untrained items. Training did not influence processing of dominant meanings of ambiguous words or unambiguous words. This study supports the idea that lexical-semantic representations of ambiguous words are highly flexible. Even when coupled with exposure to the dominant meaning, subordinate word meaning processing can be improved. Future work will explore the durabilityof this effect and whether it transfers between spoken and written language.

See here for a link to the programme.