The amount and structure of prior event experience affects anticipatory sentence interpretation

2016-10-25T11:18:36Z (GMT) by Arielle Borovsky

Listeners easily interpret speech about novel events in everyday conversation; however, much of research on mechanisms of spoken language comprehension, by design, capitalises on event knowledge that is familiar to most listeners. This paper explores how listeners generalise from previous experience during incremental processing of novel spoken sentences. In two studies, participants initially heard stories that conveyed novel event mappings between agents, actions and objects, and their ability to interpret a novel, related event in real-time was measured via eye-tracking. A single exposure to a novel event was not sufficient to support generalisation in real-time sentence processing. When each story event was repeated with either the same agent or a different, related agent, listeners generalised in the repetition condition, but not in the multiple agent condition. These findings shed light on the conditions under which listeners leverage prior event experience while interpreting novel linguistic signals in everyday speech.