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A likely story: the influence of fantastical discourse context on children’s on-line sentence comprehension

Lee, Ruth ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8854-1968, Huettig, Falk and Ganea, Patricia (2016) A likely story: the influence of fantastical discourse context on children’s on-line sentence comprehension. In: Budapest CEU Conference on Cognitive Development, 7-9 January 2016, Budapest, Hungary.

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Two-year-olds can use verb constraints to anticipate upcoming linguistic input (Mani & Huettig, 2012). Both adults and 3-year-olds can also make predictions about
language in real-time using more complex world knowledge of the relationship between particular actions and agents (Borovsky, Elman & Fernald, 2012; Borovsky, Sweeney, Elman & Fernald, 2014). However, no work has investigated children’s realtime interpretation of a fictional discourse that is inconsistent with their knowledge of the world. In the present study, we ask whether children and adults can use
incoming fictional information that contradicts both lexical and world knowledge to constrain predictions about upcoming language input. Children hear short stories displayed via an eyetracker, each about a fantastical entity: for instance, ‘Wendy the witch doesn’t have sandwiches for her lunch. She has keys for her lunch’. These are followed by critical sentences such as ‘Wendy is eating up the key’ while children look at images including a sandwich and a key. Early findings suggest that children have difficulty in using discourse information to anticipate a referent, drawing instead on stable semantic relationships. We also explore the relationship of predictive language processing in fantastical contexts with other mental functions. Firstly, anticipation of events consistent with a fantastical fictional world may require the suppression of
stable semantic relationships; we might therefore expect it to disrupt performance via demands on inhibitory control. Secondly, individuals who possess strong, well-defined
semantic representations, as measured by semantic fluency tasks, may find it more difficult to override locally coherent candidate referents.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)
Status: Published
School/Department: School of Education, Language and Psychology
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/7031

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