Word accents and phonological neighbourhood as predictive cues in spoken language comprehension

Author(s): Pelle Söderström, Merle Horne and Mikael Roll

Abstract

The present contribution presents event-related potential (ERP) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) findings related to the processing of Swedish word accents. These results are then discussed and further analysed in the context of models of word activations and phonological neighbourhoods. It has previously been seen that word accents – either a low tone (accent 1) or a high tone (accent 2) on a word stem – can be used to pre-activate suffixes. Furthermore, it has been found that accent 1 seems to be a stronger suffix "predictor" of upcoming suffixes as compared to accent 2. It has been proposed that accent 1 stems give rise to a pre-activation negativity brain potential, which is related to their high inherent predictive weight as regards associated suffixes. The present study suggests that the processing differences between accent 1 and 2 can partly be explained by the difference in the number of word activations elicited by accent 1 and accent 2 word stems. This idea is tested by means of a regression analysis, which found that words in denser phonological neighbourhoods elicit smaller ERP negativities.

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