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Cognition. 2008 Feb;106(2):633-64. Epub 2007 May 15.

Heeding the voice of experience: the role of talker variation in lexical access.

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Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Two experiments used the head-mounted eye-tracking methodology to examine the time course of lexical activation in the face of a non-phonemic cue, talker variation. We found that lexical competition was attenuated by consistent talker differences between words that would otherwise be lexical competitors. In Experiment 1, some English cohort word-pairs were consistently spoken by a single talker (male couch, male cows), while other word-pairs were spoken by different talkers (male sheep, female sheet). After repeated instances of talker-word pairings, words from different-talker pairs showed smaller proportions of competitor fixations than words from same-talker pairs. In Experiment 2, participants learned to identify black-and-white shapes from novel labels spoken by one of two talkers. All of the 16 novel labels were VCVCV word-forms atypical of, but not phonologically illegal in, English. Again, a word was consistently spoken by one talker, and its cohort or rhyme competitor was consistently spoken either by that same talker (same-talker competitor) or the other talker (different-talker competitor). Targets with different-talker cohorts received greater fixation proportions than targets with same-talker cohorts, while the reverse was true for fixations to cohort competitors; there were fewer erroneous selections of competitor referents for different-talker competitors than same-talker competitors. Overall, these results support a view of the lexicon in which entries contain extra-phonemic information. Extensions of the artificial lexicon paradigm and developmental implications are discussed.

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