Anna Gowenlock joins the lab

Anna joins the lab this week as a Research Assistant working on projects funded by the ESRC. Her role involves assisting Lena Blott and Rachael Hulme on multiple projects exploring the different factors that can impact disambiguation skills and meaning comprehension.

She previously studied Linguistics at the University of Cambridge before coming to UCL in 2020 to complete an MSc in Language Sciences. Here she developed an interest in running behavioural experiments online and using these tools to understand more about how we process language. Her masters project explored how we make use of visual cues to enhance auditory perception of speech.

Welcome Back Rachael!

We’re delighted that Dr Rachael Hulme has rejoined the lab as a Postdoctoral Researcher working on our @ESRC project looking at the factors that lead to high-quality lexical-semantic knowledge

Rachael comes to us from Aston where she worked with Dr Jo Taylor and Dr Laura Shapiro on a project exploring vocabulary learning through reading.

Before that Rachael completed her PhD in vocabulary learning here in at UCL with Prof Jenni Rodd

She has recently published an important paper in PeerJ that reveals how immediate testing can boost retention of new vocabulary that is learned through story reading

She has also shown how incidental vocabulary learning from stories is influenced by the number of repetition of the critical words within the stories.

Prof Jenni Rodd to cycle 100 Miles for Kidney Research

On the 1-year anniversary of her Kidney Transplant Jenni will ride from Woolhampton (near Reading) to Addenbrooke’s hospital where her transplant operation took place

She is riding with her Kidney donor brother @ian_rodd on Sept 11th to raise money for @Kidney_Research

Click here for a link to their JustGiving page

or here for a link to a story in her local paper


Jenni and Ian successfully completed their ride. Things didn’t exactly go to plan with an exploding rear tyre necessitating an emergency trip to a local bike shop only 2 miles from where they started riding together.

Here is a picture of them happy, but tired, shortly after arriving into Addenbrookes.

see here for more information in Jenni’s local newspaper

Dominance Norms and Data for Spoken Ambiguous Words in British English

New pre-print from @BeckyAGilbert and @JenniRodd:

We collated data from a number of published experiments and pre-tests to construct a dataset of 29,533 valid word association responses for 243 spoken ambiguous words from participants from the United Kingdom. We provide summary dominance data for the 182 ambiguous words that have a minimum of 100 responses, and a tool for automatically coding new word association responses based on responses in our coded set, which allows additional data to be more easily scored and added to this database. All files can be found at:

Learning new word meanings from story reading: the benefit of immediate testing

This work, led by Rachael Hulme and recently published in PeerJ explores vocabulary learning in adults from stories that were read in their native language.

A set of three experiments found that

  • New words learned incidentally through stories were less susceptible to forgetting over 24 hours compared with a more intentional vocab learning paradigm.
  • Vocab learning was strongly boosted when participants completed a brief test of the new vocab following story reading

See here for a twitter thread that summarises the key message.

Hulme RC, Rodd JM. 2021. Learning new word meanings from story reading: the benefit of immediate testing. PeerJ 9:e11693

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.

Recruiting: 2yr Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Research Fellow position funded by our @ESRC grant “Individual Differences in Comprehension across the Lifespan” working with @JenniRodd @LenaMBlott @ReadOxford @DrMattDavis

Position funded for 2 years with a start date or 1st July 2021, but there is some flexibility in this. Ideally we would like somebody in post by 1 October 2021.

The deadline for applications is April 25th. Interviews will likely take place in the week commencing 4th May (via zoom).

See here for more info