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Department of Cognitive Science

How does sentence context affect activation of homophone and cohort competitors? Evidence from language-mediated eye movements.

Samantha Calacouris (
Jon Brock (
Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, Macquarie University Sydney


This study used eyetracking to measure the effects of sentence context on the unfolding process of spoken word identification. It is unclear from previous research whether sentence context affects the processing of spoken words and whether the effect is immediate or delayed. Huettig and Altmann (2004) presented sentences containing a homophone (e.g. pen). Participants tended to look at objects corresponding to both meanings of the homograph (writing pen, pig pen), even when the sentence context was biased towards one interpretation. This suggests that both meanings of a homophone are activated, regardless of context. However, other studies show that on hearing a target word (e.g. button) the tendency to look at a cohort competitor (e.g. butter) disappears if the competitor does not fit the sentence context (Brock & Nation, 2009; Dahan & Tanenhaus, 2004). The discrepancy between these findings may reflect differences in the way homophones are processed compared with other words, or may simply reflect differences in sentence context used across studies. In the present study, we directly compare the effect of the same sentence context on eye-movements directed at homophone and cohort competitors. Participants hear sentences such as "When Mark coughed he felt a pain in his chest so he decided to call the doctor" while viewing a display containing either a homophone competitor (e.g. a treasure chest) or a cohort competitor (e.g. a cheque). Results will shed light on the process of spoken word identification in typical populations and will provide reference for future studies investigating developmental disorders such as autism that are associated with difficulties processing language in context.

Citation details for this article:

Calacouris, S., Brock, J. (2010). How does sentence context affect activation of homophone and cohort competitors? Evidence from language-mediated eye movements. In W. Christensen, E. Schier, and J. Sutton (Eds.), ASCS09: Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science (pp. 28-34). Sydney: Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science.

DOI: 10.5096/ASCS20095
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