Alma Veenstra

Adventures of a psycholinguist

Keep it simple!

on 18 July 2014

In many linguistic experiments, there is a rich variation in the words used. Agreement studies are no exception. Ofcourse, our daily language also contains a rich variation of words and structures. But if we want to study grammar, it is useful to limit the lexical variation to a minimum, so that we can get to the heart of the grammar.

In agreement studies, researchers have found that certain factors make it difficult to generate correct agreement. Remember the key to the cabinets are missing? We wanted to see if these patterns can still be found when the lexical variation in the items is reduced. Our sentences only contained four different words: circle, rectangle, triangle, and star.

We reproduced the standard finding (attraction when a singular head noun is combined with a plural local noun: the circle next to the stars are red), but also found a new finding (attraction when a plural head noun is combined with a singular local noun: the circles next to the star is red).

On top of that, we also designed a very cool new paradigm to test agreement: picture description. In contrast to more traditional agreement tasks, picture description does not involve reading or listening. I can’t wait to try this out in new populations!

Read the original article:

Veenstra, A., Acheson, D. J., & Meyer, A. S. (2014). Keeping it simple: Studying grammatical encoding with lexically-reduced item sets. Frontiers in Psychology (5): 783.




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