Heeding the voice of experience: the role of talker variation in lexical access

Cognition. 2008 Feb;106(2):633-64. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2007.03.013. Epub 2007 May 15.


Two experiments used the head-mounted eye-tracking methodology to examine the time course of lexical activation in the face of a non-phonemic cue, talker variation. We found that lexical competition was attenuated by consistent talker differences between words that would otherwise be lexical competitors. In Experiment 1, some English cohort word-pairs were consistently spoken by a single talker (male couch, male cows), while other word-pairs were spoken by different talkers (male sheep, female sheet). After repeated instances of talker-word pairings, words from different-talker pairs showed smaller proportions of competitor fixations than words from same-talker pairs. In Experiment 2, participants learned to identify black-and-white shapes from novel labels spoken by one of two talkers. All of the 16 novel labels were VCVCV word-forms atypical of, but not phonologically illegal in, English. Again, a word was consistently spoken by one talker, and its cohort or rhyme competitor was consistently spoken either by that same talker (same-talker competitor) or the other talker (different-talker competitor). Targets with different-talker cohorts received greater fixation proportions than targets with same-talker cohorts, while the reverse was true for fixations to cohort competitors; there were fewer erroneous selections of competitor referents for different-talker competitors than same-talker competitors. Overall, these results support a view of the lexicon in which entries contain extra-phonemic information. Extensions of the artificial lexicon paradigm and developmental implications are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Cues*
  • Eye Movements
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Social Perception*
  • Speech Perception*