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Journal Article

The mental lexicon is fully specified: Evidence from eye-tracking


Mitterer,  Holger
Mechanisms and Representations in Comprehending Speech, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language Comprehension Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Mitterer, H. (2011). The mental lexicon is fully specified: Evidence from eye-tracking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 37(2), 496-513. doi:10.1037/a0020989.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-415E-6
Four visual-world experiments, in which listeners heard spoken words and saw printed words, compared an optimal-perception account with the theory of phonological underspecification. This theory argues that default phonological features are not specified in the mental lexicon, leading to asymmetric lexical matching: Mismatching input ("pin") activates lexical entries with underspecified coronal stops ('tin'), but lexical entries with specified labial stops ('pin') are not activated by mismatching input ("tin"). The eye-tracking data failed to show such a pattern. Although words that were phonologically similar to the spoken target attracted more looks than unrelated distractors, this effect was symmetric in Experiment 1 with minimal pairs ("tin"- "pin") and in Experiments 2 and 3 with words with an onset overlap ("peacock" - "teacake"). Experiment 4 revealed that /t/-initial words were looked at more frequently if the spoken input mismatched only in terms of place than if it mismatched in place and voice, contrary to the assumption that /t/ is unspecified for place and voice. These results show that speech perception uses signal-driven information to the fullest, as predicted by an optimal perception account.