Patrick Plummer (Howard University) · [LSLT] The effects of word frequency and contextual diversity on word recognition during reading
The tendency for familiar words to be processed more quickly and easily than less familiar words is a longstanding effect in psycholinguistic research. However, recent studies have suggested that skilled readers are also sensitive to the likelihood of encountering a given word in a specific linguistic context. My talk will present a set of experiments designed to investigate how the distributional properties of words across distinct contexts impact word processing during language comprehension. The effects of two lexical properties: word frequency (a measure of how often a given word appears) and contextual diversity (a measure of the number of contexts in which a given word appears) were examined using both eye tracking and electrophysiological measures. One experiment analyzed measures of word processing during sentence reading and a second assessed ERP components associated with word processing and semantic integration. The results of the two studies revealed that typical word frequency effects in ERP and eye-tracking measures disappeared when controlling for contextual diversity; whereas, previously observed contextual diversity effects persisted when accounting for word frequency. The findings provide further evidence that language users’ experience with the contexts in which a word typically appears is an important aspect of lexical representation, and appears to hold more psychological relevance than mere frequency of exposure to a particular word.