The nature of pre-lexical units: A new approach to an old debate - Holger Mitterer


Goodman Cancer Research Centre, Room 501, CA, 1200 Pine Avenue West, CA


One of the fundamental questions in spoken-word recognition has been the nature of the units that mediate between auditory input and lexical items. However, no consensus could be reached, and different methods favored different types of units (syllables, phonemes, features, etc.). Maybe as a consequence, episodic models of the mental lexicon claimed that there were no intermediate units, and the lexicon simply stored multiple exemplars of auditory traces for each word. However, recent evidence from a perceptual learning paradigm indicated that listeners easily generalize learning from one lexical item to another, a result that is difficult to explain without the assumption of some pre-lexical unit. In this talk, I will present evidence from eye-tracking that perceptual learning indeed influences early perceptual processes. A positive consequence of this result is that this method may be used to reveal the nature of pre-lexical units. Using different learning paradigms, I will show that pre-lexical units are context dependent and not restricted to one grain size. Pre-lexical processing may hence be using more detailed representations than the often proposed context-independent phonological features or phonemes.


Holger Mitterer is associate professor at the Department of Cognitive Science of the University of Malta. His research focuses on ecological aspects of speech perception, or how we perceive  speech in real life with all its variation due to the speaker  and the phonetic context in which a word or segment appears. His interest in speech perception has also lead to forays into other domains, such as speech production and colour perception. He uses a range of methods and tools, such as eyetracking and electrophysiological measurements. He is a frequent contributor to  Methods-workshops, both on statistics and eye-tracking. He also maintains a selection of useful Praat scripts (

Dr. Mitterer's invited lecture is organized by the GRIPP group. GRIPP is an interdisciplinary reading group discussing at the intersection of Reference, Information structure, Prosody and Pragmatics (GRIPP), organized by CRBLM members Aparna Nadig (McGill SCSD), Kris Onishi (McGill Psychology), Michael Wagner (McGill Linguistics), and Meghan Clayards (McGill SCSD and Linguistics). For more information about the lecture, please contact Meghan Clayards (meghan dot clayards (AT) mcgill dot ca)