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Phondi: Benjamin Swets on "Individual Variation in the Scope of Sentence Planning"

Friday, February 13, 2015
12:00 AM
473 Lorch Hall

Individual Variation in the Scope of Sentence Planning

In today's Phondi meeting, we have a presentation by Benjamin Swets from Grand Valley State University. He will talk to us about his research on individual variation in sentence planning. The title and abstract of his talk are given below:

Individual Variation in the Scope of Sentence Planning

Traditional psycholinguistic theories of language production have held that speakers plan linguistic material in an inflexibly incremental manner. On this view, all speakers will plan the same small amount of information (ranging from, e.g., a clause or a phonological word) prior to articulation, regardless of the contextual circumstances or individual who is speaking. A relatively new domain of research that challenges this strictly incremental view is to examine systematic, individual variation of planning scope among different speakers. I will present research along these lines. In this research, speakers described picture arrays to partners in a matching game. The arrays sometimes required speakers to note a contrast between a sentence-initial object (e.g., a four-legged cat) and a sentence-final object (e.g., a three-legged cat). We measured speakers’ working memory prior to the session, then we recorded their eye movements during speech. The eye-movement measures revealed that speakers with higher working memory capacity were more likely to gather a larger amount of visual information prior to speech. They did so by being more likely to look ahead and fixate the object to be described sentence-finally. These speakers were also more likely to reference the contrast early in speech (e.g., by telling their partners to move “the cat with three legs” rather than simply “the cat”), reflecting an increased capacity both to gather and to encode material linguistically prior to speech. Such analyses of individual differences can help to develop theories about the nature of the cognitive system that processes speech. For example, they afford theoretical developments regarding the mechanistic role that working memory plays in speech planning, as well as the role that working memory might play in language processing more generally.