New Preprint: Effect of Contextual Diversity on Word Learning

A new preprint By Rachael Hulme, Anisha Begum, Kate Nation and Jenni Rodd looks at how contextual diversity affects early stages of word learning.

Diversity of narrative context disrupts the early stage of learning the meanings of novel words

There’s an important distinction between ‘situational diversity’ (i.e. the context in which words occur) and ‘heterogeneity’ (i.e. polysemy/diversity in words’ meanings). These typically co-occur in natural language, so we wanted to tease contextual diversity apart from polysemy.

Adults learned new words and their meanings by reading paragraphs with either five different narrative contexts or a single coherent narrative context. We controlled the semantic features of word meanings across conditions to avoid influences from polysemy.

Diversity of narrative context did not affect word-form learning but disrupted learning of word meanings – more semantic features were correctly recalled for words learned in a single coherent narrative context.

So in the early stages of learning meanings of new words, learning is boosted by anchoring them to a single coherent narrative discourse. The temporary representations that are built to support discourse comprehension may play an important role in supporting word learning.

The expt was preregistered, and materials, data & analysis code are available via OSF:

Here’s a poster summary of this research:

Po-Heng Chen joins the lab

We are delighted to welcome Po-Heng (Bobby) Chen to the lab.

Po-Heng is a PhD student in the Graduate Institute of Linguistics at National Taiwan University, where he works with Dr. Chia-Lin Lee. His research takes advantage of different technologies (e.g., eye tracking, ERPs, MEG, and fMRI), to study how humans learn and deploy syntactic and semantic information. Through examining individual variations and age-related differences, his goal is to understand the dynamic changes of the interaction between language-specific and domain-general cognitive and neural mechanisms across lifespan.

He was awarded a prestigious grant from the Taiwan Ministry of Science and Technology to spend 12 months working with us as a visiting researcher. He will be working on a project looking at the impact of prior knowledge on the word meaning learning in older and younger adults.