Monday, July 15, 2013

Hart and Perfetti: "Learning Words in Zekkish" (2008)

Because of the interesting quotes and references from Gerard Steen, I decided to take a look at some of the papers at Charles Perfetti's homepage. He has generously put many of them online and even scanned some book chapters.

Perfetti is mainly a scholar of the cognitive and developmental psychology of reading, so not everything he writes can be directly translated into the debates about semantics that I'm interested in. However, this book chapter, written with Lesley Hart, discusses disambiguation along with resolution of other input ambiguities (including the resolution of phonetically ambiguous words like content).

The upshot of the discussion is that disambiguation is a horse race process: When a phonologically unambiguous but semantically ambiguous word is read, a number of candidate meanings are activated, and a winner is then found by mutual inhibition:
With ambiguous words there is no phonological competition; however, the context and the extent of bias in the context in which the word appears (Vu, Kellas, Petersen & Metcalf, 2003), word-specific qualities such as word structure (Almeida & Libben, 2005), and the relative frequency of use of each of the meanings (Collins, 2002) remains necessary for choosing among multiple activated lexical entries. (p. 112)
They also briefly mention the surprisingly heated debate around the question of when in the process contextually irrelevant meanings are killed off:
There is some debate as to the power of biasing contexts to speed the response time for subordinate meanings. For example, can reading "bank" in a sentence like "There were crocodiles sunning themselves on the bank" improve response time times to the river meaning of bank more than sentences like "We took a picture of the bank," for which either meaning of "bank" can be appropriate? Martin, Vu, Kellas, and Metcalf (1999) claim that strongly biasing context can override word meaning biases from frequency, whereas weakly biasing context cannot. Binder & Rayner disagree with the power of strongly biasing context; they find that strongly biasing context does not have enough strength to incase the activation rate of lower frequency word meanings. (p. 113)
As a side note, I'm not sure the first reference here is to the right paper: George Kellas and Hoang Vu wrote a similarly-titled paper which was a direct response to Katherine S. Binder and Keith Rayner's paper, so maybe that's what Hart and Perfetti in fact wanted to cite.

No comments :

Post a Comment