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

New Publication! The relationship between sentence comprehension and lexical-semantic retuning

This work, led by Becky Gilbert explores the learning mechanisms by which lexical-semantic knowledge about the relatively likelihoods of the alternative meanings of ambiguous words is updated. Our findings suggest that this form of lexical-semantic retuning is driven by participants’ final interpretation of the word meanings during the prime encounter, regardless of initial meaning activation or misinterpretation.

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

Gilbert, R.A., Davis, M.H., Gaskell, M.G., Rodd, J.M. (2021) The relationship between sentence comprehension and lexical-semantic retuning. Journal of Memory and Language 116, 104188DOI:

New Publication! Recovery from misinterpretations during online sentence processing

This work, led by Lena Blott uses an eye-tracking method to explore how readers recover after they misinterpret sentences that contain ambiguous words.

Blott, L.M., Rodd, J.M., Ferreira, F., Warren, J.E. (2020). Recovery from misinterpretations during online sentence processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Advance online publication. DOI:

New Publication. Settling into Semantic Space: An ambiguity-focused account of word-meaning access

This review paper brings together much of the research conducted in the lab over the last 20 years. It presents a new account of word-meaning access that places semantic disambiguation at its core and integrates evidence from a wide variety of experimental approaches to explain this key aspect of language comprehension.

Rodd, J.M. (2020). Settling into semantic space: An ambiguity-focused account of word-meaning access. Perspectives on Psychological Science 15 (2), 411-427. DOI: