Nonarbitrary phenomena in language, such as systematic association in the form-meaning interface, have been widely reported in the literature. Exploiting such systematic associations previous studies have demonstrated that pseudowords can be indicative of meaning. However, whether semantic activation from words and pseudowords is supported by the very same processes, activating a common semantic memory system, is currently not known. Here, we take advantage of recent progresses from computational linguistics models allowing to induce meaning representations for out-of-vocabulary strings of letters via domain-general associative-learning mechanisms applied to natural language. We combined these models with data from priming tasks, in which participants are showed two strings of letters presented sequentially one after the other and are then asked to indicate if the latter is a word or a pseudoword. In Experiment 1 we reanalyzed the data of the largest behavioral database on semantic priming, while in Experiment 2 we ran an independent replication on a new language, Italian, controlling for a series of possible confounds. Results were consistent across the two experiments and showed that the prime-word meaning interferes with the semantic pattern elicited by the target pseudoword (i.e., at increasing estimated semantic relatedness between prime word and target pseudoword, participants' reaction times increased and accuracy decreased). These findings indicate that the same associative mechanisms governing word meaning also subserve the processing of pseudowords, suggesting in turn that human semantic memory can be conceived as a distributional system that builds upon a general-purpose capacity of extracting knowledge from complex statistical patterns.

Out-of-vocabulary but not meaningless: Evidence for semantic-priming effects in pseudoword processing

Gatti, Daniele
;
Rinaldi, Luca
2022-01-01

Abstract

Nonarbitrary phenomena in language, such as systematic association in the form-meaning interface, have been widely reported in the literature. Exploiting such systematic associations previous studies have demonstrated that pseudowords can be indicative of meaning. However, whether semantic activation from words and pseudowords is supported by the very same processes, activating a common semantic memory system, is currently not known. Here, we take advantage of recent progresses from computational linguistics models allowing to induce meaning representations for out-of-vocabulary strings of letters via domain-general associative-learning mechanisms applied to natural language. We combined these models with data from priming tasks, in which participants are showed two strings of letters presented sequentially one after the other and are then asked to indicate if the latter is a word or a pseudoword. In Experiment 1 we reanalyzed the data of the largest behavioral database on semantic priming, while in Experiment 2 we ran an independent replication on a new language, Italian, controlling for a series of possible confounds. Results were consistent across the two experiments and showed that the prime-word meaning interferes with the semantic pattern elicited by the target pseudoword (i.e., at increasing estimated semantic relatedness between prime word and target pseudoword, participants' reaction times increased and accuracy decreased). These findings indicate that the same associative mechanisms governing word meaning also subserve the processing of pseudowords, suggesting in turn that human semantic memory can be conceived as a distributional system that builds upon a general-purpose capacity of extracting knowledge from complex statistical patterns.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11571/1470115
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