Generating expectations and meanings in language comprehension and production


Education Building Room 433, 3700 rue McTavish, Montreal, QC, H3A 1Y2, CA


We often have expectations about utterances before they are uttered. How we do this, in language production and comprehension alike, has implications for practical concerns and for theoretical questions about language architecture. The ability to generate reliable expectations may be a key enabler of robust language understanding in noisy environments. Understanding the (non-)parallels between the generative mechanisms engaged in comprehension and production is essential for any attempt to close the gap between grammatical 'knowledge' and language use systems.

In this talk I explore how we generate expectations about word-level and sentence-level meanings. One set of studies uses behavioral interference paradigms to examine the time-course of verb generation when Japanese speakers plan their utterances. Two other series of studies focus on electrophysiological evidence for the generation of verb expectations in Chinese, Spanish, and English.

Evidence for advance generation of verb meanings is found in comprehension and production alike. But we find that different types of linguistic information drive expectations on different time scales. In verb-final clauses, verb expectations are initially driven only by lexical associations, and effects of compositional interpretations are observed only after a delay. Similar mechanisms operate in production and comprehension, but they yield different outputs, depending on the information available to the language user in a specific task.

This Distinguished Lecture is jointly organized by CRBLM and the McGill Department of Linguistics.