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Introduction to Psycholinguistics

Y.D. Stephen Lai, Ph.D 2011/02

What is psycholinguistics?

Language activities take place every day & everywhere…
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with great ease in a completely subconscious manner We understand sentence even though speech streams include no discrete boundaries to indicate where one word ends and another begins; We understand speech even faster than we can produce it, and we are so fast that we can even finish each others‟ sentences; Incomplete sentences are no problem for us; We understand stammering non-fluent politicians and non-native speakers; We deal with ambiguity all the time without breaking down (computer parsers often maintain thousands of possible interpretations); We have a vocabulary of about 60,000 words. We access somewhere between 2-4 words/second with low error rates, 2/1000 words (though you may sometimes find it difficult to search a word, i.e., tip of the tongue).


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What is psycholinguistics?

Can you describe the process underlying linguistic communication (speaking and comprehending)?

What is psycholinguistics?

Language is complex & dynamic

multiple levels of representation & knowledge each level has rich internal structure, unique constraints & representations processing unfolds over time:
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both across levels, and in response to signal levels interact dynamically in complex ways

What is psycholinguistics?

Processing: from sound to meaning

li-nen... li-quor. li-st. li-ck. red [bug eater]  Ambiguity at the sentence-level: e. Ambiguity at the word-level: e. l-i. red bug eater [red bug] eater vs.g.[quor] li-quid.g. li-sten. John knows Mary… since he was a child vs. likes cheese  . li-nk  Ambiguity at the phrase-level: e.g. li-mb.What is psycholinguistics?  The process of linguistic communication involves the resolution of uncertainty over a potentially unbounded set of possible signals and meanings..

What is psycholinguistics?  Issues of importance:  How can a fixed set of knowledge and resources be deployed to manage this uncertainty? And how are the information “represented” in mind? This is the study of language processing   Language processing: a study of how humans comprehend and produce language (sentences. words within sentences.) in real time.  Language acquisition: a study of how humans acquire knowledge of their native language (as infants and as children) . etc. We can divide this into language comprehension (understanding what is spoken and what is written) and language production (choosing what to say or write based on what you want to “mean”)  How can such knowledge and resources be learned from finite input? This is the study of language acquisition. and sequences of sentences.

Dimensions of Psycholinguistics Development of processing Level of Processing Direction of Processing Depth of Processing .

Dimensions of Psycholinguistics .

experiments. .What is psycholinguistics?  In sum. and computational modeling. psycholinguistics can be defined as a study that explores… Language processing mechanisms and operations Or  The relation between current theories of language and human linguistic performance  through observational studies.

g.Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Field technique (observation)  Spoonerisms= slips of the tongue e.. . Actually said The queer old dean Noble tons of soil You have tasted the whole worm.  Feature switching Intended to be said Big and fat Is Pat a girl? Cedars of Lebanon  Actually said Pig and vat Is bat a curl? Cedars of Lemmanon Segment switching Intended to be said The dear old queen Noble sons of toil You have wasted the whole term.

Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Field technique (naturally occurring)  More examples: Word switching & morpheme switching Intended to be said Rules of word formation I‟d forgotten about that. Easy enoughly   What it shows: The entire phrase must be planned in advance. morphemes. or else we couldn‟t switch segments. Easily enough Actually said Words of rule formation I‟d forgot aboutten that. “Morpheme” is the fundamental building component during sentence production.  . This reveals something about the manner in which sentence (and phrase) production is planned in the mind. and words like this.

.chartreuse! That‟s it!” What it shows:   How words are organized in the mind = mental lexicon. it‟s that color that‟s really bright green….Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Field technique (naturally occurring)   Tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon: trying to access a word based on meaning. initial letter. starts with a “sh” sounds….and it‟s also a really strong liquor…but it sounds a bit like “loose”….g. e. rhyme. “Oh. since word recognition takes just 1/3 of a second . spelling. Access of the mental lexicon must be very quick.

Methods of Psycholinguistic Research:  By the way. here are the related questions regarding the mental lexicon:    How are entries in the mental lexicon linked to each other? How are entries in the mental lexicon accessed? What information is actually contained in an entry? .

 Dependent variable (things which are measured):  Response accuracy = whether the subject is correct or not. and the subject identify what a specified letter/word/color is.Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Experimental Techniques – Lexical Access  Identification task: A word flashes on a computer screen. .

Reicher. it is “WORD” rather than “letter string” that is viewed as a basic unit during reading process.g. WORK Task: identify whether the last letter is K or H What it shows: As our reading experience is accumulated.. FOG HAT NEW e. 1886. 1969):   People are more accurate in recognizing a letter in the context of a word than they are when a letter is presented in isolation.   Automatic Subconscious (also see Stroop effect: http://faculty. or when a letter is presented within a nonword.html)  Do you have any explanation? .Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Experimental Techniques – Lexical Access  Word-superiority effect (Cattell..washington. FONHGTAEW vs.g. WXRK vs.

Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Experimental Techniques – Lexical Access  Rumelhart and McClelland's interactive-activation model of word recognition .

and the subject indicates whether the word is a real word or a nonsense word by pressing a button labeled „YES‟ or a button labeled „NO‟.g..Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Experimental Techniques – Lexical Access  Lexical decision task (LDT): A word flashes on a computer screen.  Dependent variables (things which are measured):   Response latency = how long it takes the subject to decide if the word is a real word (e. glove) or a nonsense word (e. . blove) Response accuracy = whether the subject is correct or not..g.

the mental lexicon must be accessed.   Real word: find the mental entry Nonsense word: realize that there is no mental entry .Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Experimental Techniques – Lexical Access  How this relates to the mental lexicon: in order to decide if a word is a real word or a nonsense word.

This tells us that some part of the lexicon is organized by individual frequency of the word. “cliff”? (both share similar familiarity. Chinese (Ahrens.Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Experimental Techniques – Lexical Access  Frequency effect e.專業 or free in English) to access than less frequent words (e.g..g. but one is polysemous) .g.  What about “crane” vs. 1998): Higher frequency words (mixed with fake words): 讀仰 昨天 中心 專業 道特 厚測 瓦斯 味嘩 胳瓶 給邁 找到 高興 靈禁 報案 Lower frequency words (mixed with fake words): 說理 美們 聲帶 文武 旅真 離世 自多 動統 輕靈 醫者 實充 異同 皮盤 腐怡  What it shows: more frequent words take less time (e...說理 or fret in English).

Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Experimental Techniques – Lexical Access   Priming task The presentation of one stimulus (PRIME) affects the speed (usually speeding up) of the response to another stimulus (TARGET) "X primes Y" means "X is a prime for Y" or "the presentation of X speeds up (or slows down) the response to Y relative to a control“ Dependent variable: if the prime affects the response latency or not. .

..g. Phonologically related: (prime) worse -----. Words prime themselves (prime) book -----. Words are primed by semantically related words: (prime) bread -----..(target) book.g.(target) book e..(target) nurse e.g.(target) manage ? (prime) cancel -----. Orthographically related: dock primes for doctor (prime) dock -----.(target) butter  What does these show? .(target) doctor e.g.(target) can e.Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Experimental Techniques – Lexical Access  Priming effect e. Words are primed by morphologically related words (prime) books -----.g. (prime) management -----..

and by constituent morphemes. there are many different ways to prime for a single entry in the lexicon – suggesting that the entries are linked to each other in several different ways . by phonological similarity.Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Experimental Techniques – Lexical Access  What it shows: These all show us ways in which the mental lexicon is organized – by spelling similarity. Thus.

primary meaning is accessed quickly. accessing secondary meaning takes longer.. Frequency effect again with semantically ambiguous words! Hogaboam and Perfetti (1975): Preceding context (PRIME): (1) The jealous husband read the letter. . In (2). context just reinforces primary meaning. In (1). context reminds subjects of the secondary meaning.g. Task: Is the last word (of a TARGET sentence) ambiguous? Result: Subjects are faster with (2)  What it shows: common (primary) meanings are more rapidly accessed than uncommon (secondary) meanings.Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Experimental Techniques – Lexical Access  Other applications: e. (2) The antique typewriter was missing a letter.

an unconscious automatic analysis called as PARSING. Two commonly adopted methods:   Time-reading experiments Eye-movement experiments .Methods of Psycholinguistic Research: Experimental Techniques – Sentence Processing   Sentence processing: analysis of the meanings of words and analysis of its syntactic structure.   Content words take longer to process than function words.html The pattern of how long it takes to process a word reflects the semantic and syntactic structure of the sentence. Bar-pressing paradigm (self-paced reading): The subject reads a sentence one word at a time. and presses the space bar to indicate they have processed that word.Timed-reading Experiment (Self-paced)     Assumption: a difficult sentence takes longer to parse. ` (syntactic) . One word appears on the screen at a time. timing how long it takes to process the sentence allows us to rank how “difficult” different sentences are to process.(semantic) Subjects pause at the end of clause boundaries. Therefore.

g. verb She saw him duck and stumble near the barn.Boland’s (1997)  e. noun She saw his duck and chickens near the barn.  Unambiguous accusative pronoun. Boland (1997): examination of influence of discourse context and probabilistic factors in the initial assignment of syntactic category Unambiguous possessive pronoun..  .

Boland’s (1997)  Context (you can imagine it as a PRIME): Context bias toward possessive pronoun. Kate watched everything that Jimmy did. RTs in possessive contexts should decrease . noun As they walked around. verb meanings of the homograph. and RTs for him ought to be faster when it is biased toward the accusative. verb As they walked around. Kate looked at all of Jimmy’s pets. RTs for the pronoun his ought to be faster when the discourse context is biased toward the possessive.  Context bias toward accusative pronoun.   What‟s your prediction?   If discourse context influences the initial assignment of syntactic category. If frequency of use of the noun vs.

Completion that favors a noun usage for the homograph in “she saw her duck…” is related to RTs for the word “and”. .Boland’s (1997)  Results:   Discourse context did not have a significant effect on RTs on any word.

experiments can be done with eye-tracking. So.Eye-movement experiments  Reading involves eye movements of a subject. .


Eye-movement experiments .

Eye-movement experiments .

Eye-movement experiments .

Eye-movement experiments  Things to be measured:   Fixation Saccade .

e.. All the information from the scene is (mainly) acquired during fixation.Eye-movement experiments  Fixation:     Eye is a (relatively) still and “fixated” to the certain point. They are Interspersed with saccades.g.. . typically 200-600 ms.. reading a single word. Duration varies from 120-1000 ms.

duration is typically only 40-120 ms Very fast (up to 600 o/s) and therefore the vision system is suppressed during the movement Ballistic. the end point of saccade cannot be changed during the movement Saccades are used to move the fixation point  Why measure the two behaviors? .Eye-movement experiments  Saccade:      “Jumps” which connect fixations Very rapid -.

 one may move his/her eyes to the regions that follow the current area.Eye-movement experiments  Because when readers encounter processing difficulty. one reader may fixate on the problematic region until the difficulty is attenuated. longer fixations and backwards movements reflect processing difficulty. Thus.   .  one may also move his/her eyes to the regions prior the current problematic area (regressive saccades). Assumption: The eye movements reflect processing.

Eye-movement experiments    Subjects tend to fixate on content words. Syntactically complex and semantically anomalous bits of sentences tend to create lots of backwards movements.” While Mary was mending the sock fell off * * * * * * ** * 1 2 3 6 4 7 58 9 (order of fixation)  . syntactically complex: “The defendant examined by the lawyer…” = The defendant who was examined by the lawyer  semantic anomalous: “I like my coffee with cream and socks. Subjects‟ eyes move backwards in the sentence when a mis-parse occurs.

Brain activity: ERPs  We can measure electrical activity in the brain when a subject is reading a sentence  Reflect electrical activity of bundles of cortical neurons Typical peak time. . polarity  Standard effects: N400. P600 = positive voltage change approximately 600ms after a word is read which is syntactically odd. P600    N400 = negative voltage change approximately 400ms after a word is read which is semantically odd.

g. for N400. Sarah‟s in belief fairies” .Brain activity: ERPs  e. for P600. “The pizza was too hot to cry/eat.”  e.g. “Sarah‟s belief in fairies vs.

 ? a. .Brain activity: ERPs The cat will EAT/BAKE.  ? The cat will EAT/EATING. b.

Brain activity: ERPs  What this means: processing of sentences is immediate and “online” – happens as each word is read. rather than waiting until the end of a sentence/clause/phrase to put things together. .

) syntactic parse (disambiguating syntactic ambiguity)…etc. What it shows: fast. automatic. .Linguistics and Language Processing: Bottom-up and Top-down Models  Language comprehension involves a lot of work…    Segmentation. lexical access (looking up words/morphemes in the mental lexicon & finding the appropriate meanings of ambiguous words. “guess”… Sentence comprehension involves top-down & bottom-up processing. robust. accurate disambiguation.

we do not have to wait until we have analyzed all the phonemes in a sentence in order to understand it. For instance. word boundaries. and relate these things to the mental lexicon and semantic interpretation. Bottom-up: doing step-by-step analysis to isolate phonemes.  . It happens only piece by piece – no forward projection.Bottom-up and Top-down Models  Top-down: beginning interpretation of a sentence spontaneously and automatically based on what information is available to us. no prediction.

A person using very strong bottom-up processing would be primed for both meanings. given the syntactic structure. .  Top-down processing: prime only for soil  Bottom-up processing: prime for soil and grind  A person using very strong top-down processing would only be primed for the meaning which is appropriate. despite the fact that only one meaning is appropriate.Bottom-up and Top-down Models  Comparison: Hoggle fell gracelessly to the ground.

but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? So yuo raed tihs wuothit mcuh porbelm. . tpyos shohlud not be a porbelm aynmroe. the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit oedrer. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch codnutced at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy. it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are tpyed.Top-down Models  The pweor of the hmuan mnid. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef.

.grey day [weather] .Top-down Models  Some evidence for top-down processing     Better performance in identification task of spoken words in the presence of noise when they occur in sentences than in isolation/ anomalous/ non-sense sentences. Role of context in segmentation e. Shadowing Phoneme restoration e..Grade A [quality of meat /eggs] --. “The state governors met with their respective legi X(cough) latures convening in the capital city.g. [g r e d e] --.g.

but before its onset in the eat condition. .Top-down Models  Comprehenders do not wait until the whole sentence has been heard to make inferences about what it means or will wind up meaning:   The onset of saccadic eye movements to the target object (the cake) was significantly later in the move condition than in the eat condition. Saccades to the target were launched after the onset of the spoken word cake in the move condition.

chat? get warm? talk? eat? rest? The children went outside to. . play Empirically. .Top-down Models   Try to guess the next word in the sentence My brother came inside to. . 1981) . it‟s been shown that more highly predictable words are read more quickly (Ehrlich and Rayner. .

Phonetics & Phoneme  Features (as associated with bottom-up processing) Intended to be said Big and fat Is Pat a girl? Cedars of Lebanon Actually said Pig and vat Is bat a curl? Cedars of Lemmanon  Phonemes  Cohort Model :William Marslen-Wilson proposed that in word comprehension. . words are recognized from beginning to end.

g. Suggests that the segment is a fundamental unit of auditory perception.. and consider all the words that begin with [kr]. (The cohort is reduced from all the words that begin with [k] to all the words that begin with [kr]). we process the [k]. hearing “crystal”. All the words considered are called the cohort.Phonetics & Phoneme e. First.    And so on. . and initially consider all the words that begin with [k]. Shown with experiments that this is the case. until we process all the segments of “crystal”. = [krIstal]. Then we process the [r].

Phonetics & Phoneme  Syllables    Syllables used successfully as primes in lexical decision tasks.g.. “but” + “cat” = “bat” (rather than “but”) Subjects prefer to create word blends according to the syllable structure of their language.. . the rhyme. “bark” + “meow” = ? “beow” (rather than “baow”) e. Word-blending tasks: subjects unconsciously split words at natural points in the syllable the onset vs. e.g.

Morphological processing  Morpheme activation  Do individual morphological components of words play a role in processing?   Individual morphemes in compound words are automatically activated during word recognition. . Evidence: crowbar primes bird.

 Selectional restrictions  Do knowledge of selectional restrictions play a role in processing new words? e. *understand-ize  Knowledge of the restrictions of affixes forms part of the wordprocessing system  Evidence: (note: birm is a non-sense word) re-birmable vs. re-birmize. vs.. re-birmity RT: longer .g.

PRIME “fillable” ------.TARGET “refillable” Larger priming for… (a) .Morphological processing  Hierarchical structure    Our representation of complex words is organized in terms of hierarchical morphological structure.TARGET “unbearable” b. PRIME “bearable” ---. Please draw the tree structures for “refillable” and “unbearable” Evidence: a.

(which one is easier?) a.Syntactic Processing  Some grammatically complex sentences are easy to parse and some grammatically easy sentences are hard to parse.g. This is the malt that the rat that the cat that the dog worried killed ate.   e. e. This is the malt that was eaten by the rat that was killed by the cat that was worried by the dog.. (complex sentence but easy parsing) Sarah saw the goblin who displeased Jareth the other day..g. b.g.  . (easy sentence but hard parsing) The horse raced past the barn fell.. e.

. The girl told the story cried. Garden-path sentences: those that lead one down the garden path to the wrong analysis.  Syntactic parser: a special processing module that makes use of grammatical knowledge but also contains special procedures and principles that guide the order in which elements of a sentence are processed and the manner in which syntactic structure is built up.    The horse raced past the barn fell. Since Jay always walks a mile seems like a short distance to him.

These are just tips of the iceberg … More to be read. and explored! Are you ready to take this course? . discussed.