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PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33202. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033202. Epub 2012 Mar 27.

Phrase frequency effects in language production.

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Departamento de Psicología Cognitiva, Social y Organizacional, Universidad de La Laguna, La Laguna, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain.


A classic debate in the psychology of language concerns the question of the grain-size of the linguistic information that is stored in memory. One view is that only morphologically simple forms are stored (e.g., 'car', 'red'), and that more complex forms of language such as multi-word phrases (e.g., 'red car') are generated on-line from the simple forms. In two experiments we tested this view. In Experiment 1, participants produced noun+adjective and noun+noun phrases that were elicited by experimental displays consisting of colored line drawings and two superimposed line drawings. In Experiment 2, participants produced noun+adjective and determiner+noun+adjective utterances elicited by colored line drawings. In both experiments, naming latencies decreased with increasing frequency of the multi-word phrase, and were unaffected by the frequency of the object name in the utterance. These results suggest that the language system is sensitive to the distribution of linguistic information at grain-sizes beyond individual words.

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