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Language production

Holly Branigan

Office: US46
Office hour: Mon 10-11
Psychling coffee hour: Wed 11-12
Course overview
 Overview of the production system
 Methodological issues
 Lexical access
 Syntactic encoding
 Beyond the sentence…
 What does production involve?
 Methodological challenges:
– Studying comprehension vs production
 Approaches:
– Observational approaches
 Advantages/disadvantages
– Experimental approaches
 Challenges: controlling input and output
 Two classes of methods:
– Manipulating pathways (altering processor’s state)
– Manipulating message
– Neurophysiological approaches
 Production forms half of language ability:
– Input to comprehension
– More difficult problem than comprehension?
e.g. Evidence from 1st & 2nd language acqn
 The problem:
– Expressing non-ordered conceptual message via
ordered array of sounds.
– But: under several constraints, in real time.
What we don’t do
H: How much money is there in my current account and in my
deposit account?
H: Hello?
C: Colourless green ideas sleep furiously.
H: How much money is there in my current account and in my
deposit account?
C: Your current a-ccount encompasses two hundred pounds.
I cannot access how..<SILENCE>.. in your deposit account
money much is there.
Undesirable features
 Meaningless and irrelevant content.
 Long silences, strange pausing.
 Infelicities of vocabulary and structure:
– ‘Your current account encompasses £200’
– ‘I cannot access how in your deposit account
money much is there.’
 Strange intonation and pronunciation:
– ‘Your current a-ccount’
– ‘Sleeeeeep’
What we do do
 Speakers must produce utterances with:
– Appropriate meaningful content;
– Appropriate lexical items;
– Appropriate syntax - grammatical and appropriate
word order and structure;
– Appropriate pronunciation, intonation, and
 And they must do this fluently, in real time.
Getting the form right
 Speakers have to get every aspect of the
form right, whether or not germane to
– cf. Hearers - details of form can sometimes
(often?) be ignored (e.g. missing words, not
paying attention).
Getting the content wrong
 Paradox: adept at getting form right but content wrong:
– Subject-verb agreement errors
 e.g. The report about the fires are very long

 Less than 5% errors in expmt designed to elicit them (Bock & Miller


– Serious structural anomalies (unparseable)

 0.5% utterances (Deese 1984).

– Sound/word errors (Garnham et al 1982):

 Sound errors 3.2/10,000 words

 Word errors 5.1/10,000 words

– Can you put the desk back on my book when you’ve finished with it?
– It’ll get fast a lot hotter if you put the burner on.
Doing it in time
 Strongest constraint may be fluency:
– have to get form right under time pressure.

 Incrementality:
– ‘Work with what you’ve got’
– Flexibility: allows speaker to say something quickly,
also respond to changing environment.

 Modularity:
– ‘Work only with what you’ve got’
– Regulate flow of information.
An outline of
sentence production
 Three broad stages:
– Conceptualisation
 deciding on the message (= meaning to express)

– Formulation
 turning the message into linguistic representations
 Grammatical encoding (finding words and putting them together)
 Phonological encoding (finding sounds and putting them together)

– Articulation
 speaking (or writing or signing)
Methodology: Background
 ‘ intrinsically more difficult subject to
study than language comprehension’
– Not susceptible to experimental study?

 Solutions:
– Evidence from other disciplines
 e.g., social psychology, linguistics, AI…
– Cognitive psychology:
 Historically: observational methods
 Recently: experimental methods
What’s the problem?
 Comprehension:
– Can control input precisely
– Moving from language to conceptual representation
e.g., understanding anaphora: participants read same texts; measure
reading times

 Production:
– How do we control input?
– Moving from (unobservable) conceptual representation to language
 e.g., when participants produce anaphora, do they do so on the same


 BUT: end product is observable in production but not

 What people say:
– Under which circumstances do they produce particular
words, utterances etc
– May be intended, or may be errors
– How frequently do they do this

 Timecourse:
– How quickly do people produce language

 Neurophysiological:
– How is language production represented in the brain?
Observational methods: Analyses of
spontaneous speech
– Researchers’ own corpora
(e.g., Stemberger, 1985)

– Publicly available corpora:

 Non-experimental
(London –Lund - Svartvik & Quirk, 1980; Wall Street
Journal; CHILDES – MacWhinney & Snow, 1990)
 Experimental (controlled features)
(Map Task Corpus – Thompson et al., 1993).

– Controlled experimental tasks:

 Berman & Slobin, 1994.
Distributional analyses
 Fluent speech:
– Sentence types, verb forms, prosodic markers etc (Deese, 1984)
– Distribution of extraposed structures (Arnold, Wasow, Losongco &
Ginstrom, 2000)
– Distribution of thuh vs thee (Clark & Fox-Tree, 1997)
– Distribution of reduced phonological forms (Bard et al., 2000)

 Disfluent speech:
– Scope of utterance planning (Ford & Holmes, 1978; Beattie, 1983)
– Error detection and correction (Levelt, 1983)
Observational analyses of
 Speech errors
– Pattern of errors (Stemberger, 1985)
– Relative frequency of errors

 Problems:
– Paucity of data
 errors = 3% self-interruptions (Blackmer & Mitton, 1991)
– Bias/inaccuracies in corpus transcription:
 Transcriber bias/inaccuracy (Ferber, 1991)
 Distributional characteristics of language
– Categorisation problems
Experimental approaches
 Not prey to same problems as observational studies:
– Reduces observer bias;
– isolates phenomenon of interest;
– increases potential for systematic observation.

 Different problems!
– How to control input and output?
– Input: ecological validity problem (‘controlling thoughts’)
– Output: controlling responses:
 response specification - artificiality

 ‘exuberant responding’ – loss of data

Controlling input
 Philosophical problems
– Does language production require ‘freedom of

 Practical issues:
– Problem:
 how to characterise non-linguistic message?
– Solution:
 hold message constant, and manipulate ‘pathway’ of
processing instead (state of processor)
– Priming paradigms (effects of prior processing)
– Creating conflicts (cf. ambiguity resolution in comprehension)
Controlling output:
Specified elicitation
 Specified elicitation: tell participants what to
– Usually used when semantic/syntactic structure
not of interest.
– Responses specified in advance for given stimulus:
 Picture naming
 Implicit priming (Roelofs & Meyer, 1998)
 Array description (Smith & Wheeldon, 2001)
 Repeating sentences (Ferreira, 1993)
Controlling output:
Normative elicitation
 Normative elicitation: use stimuli designed to
induce desired response.
– Pictures of events/objects

– Descriptions of objects
‘A very large mammal that swims in the sea and was
widely hunted’

– Questions/fragments
‘The junior surgeon handed the senior surgeon….’
Manipulating pathways:
Error elicitation
 Basic idea:
– set up situations which lead to errors in ‘natural’ speech

 Agreement errors:
– Participants repeat and complete sentence fragments:
The key to the cabinets…were heavy

– Cause of errors:
 Conflict between number (or gender) of head and local noun

– Used to examine e.g. contribution of conceptual info and

morphology to agreement
(Bock & Eberhard, 1993; Vigliocco, Butterworth & Semenza, 1995)
Manipulating pathways:
 Priming:
– change probability/ease of producing particular
– Cooperating (rather than competing) plan.

 Concurrent presentation:
– Distractor and target presented at same time
 Consecutive presentation:
– Distractor presented and processed before target
Manipulating pathways:
Concurrent presentation
 Picture-word interference:
– Target stimulus:
– presented visually
– must be named
– Distractor stimulus:
– presented auditorily or visually
– must be ignored
– Stimulus onsets may be simultaneous or
Manipulating pathways:
Concurrent presentation
 Used for exploring timecourse of lexical access
(Schriefers, Meyer & Levelt, 1990)
– Targets were objects such as sheep
– Distractors:
 Different relations to target:
– Phonologically-related (sheet)
– Semantically-related (goat)
– Unrelated (bed)
 Different presentation onsets:
– 150 ms before target
– Simultaneous with target
– 150 ms after target
Manipulating pathways:
Concurrent presentation
 Results:
– early in timecourse:
 semantic distractors slow naming more than unrelated or
phonological distractors;
– later in timecourse:
 phonological distractors speed naming more than
unrelated or semantic distractors.

 Control experiment used non-production

(recognition) task
– Excluded comprehension-based explanation?
Manipulating pathways:
Consecutive presentation
 ‘Prime’ stimulus processed
– Cf concurrent presentation, where
distractor stimulus is ignored

 Target then processed

– How does prior processing of prime affect
processing of target?
Manipulating pathways:
Consecutive presentation
 Word-priming (Wheeldon & Monsell, 1994)
– Participants read dictionary definitions and
generate response
‘A very large mammal that swims in the sea and was
widely hunted’
– Then picture of related object (shark) presented
– Here, slower responses when prime is related than
– Attributed to competitive activation
Manipulating message
 Oldest method of studying production?
– Create minimal contrasts in intended message;
– study differences in realisation of message.

 ‘Simply describe’ (Osgood, 1971)

– Enact (or show film) of minimally distinct events
e.g., ball rolling across table
vs man holding ball before ball rolls across table
– Use of indefinite article a in first case vs definite article the in second

 Very simple method – but many problems:

– How do we characterise ‘minimal semantic contrast’?
Neurophysiological Measures
 Recent technological developments
allow research on neurophysiological
aspects of production.
– Which areas of the brain are involved?
– What is the timecourse of processing?
– Are different areas/processes/timecourses
associated with different aspects of
Some Methods
 Event-related potentials (ERPS):
– brain responses time-locked to some "event“
– sensory stimulus (visual flash or auditory sound), mental event
(recognition of a specified target stimulus), or omission of stimulus
(increased time gap between stimuli).

 functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI):

– form of magnetic resonance imaging of brain registering blood
flow to functioning areas of the brain

 Positron emission tomography (PET):

– uses detection of subatomic particles to identify how different areas
of brain function.

 NB: other methods coming into use

 Language production requires assembling multiple levels of
linguistic structure accurately and fluently, in real time.
 Language production in some ways harder to study than
– How to control input?
 Many methods:
– keep propositional content constant
– create and study variations in processing mechanisms, rather than
effects of variations in message itself.
– Problem remains: what is relationship between conceptual and
linguistic processing?
 New technologies offer new possibilities for tracing timecourse
and neurophysiological underpinnings of language production
Assessing models of
 Semantic interference effect
– Objects are harder to name in presence of semantically-
related word.
– Effect may be related to conceptual processing or feedback
from phonological processing.
 fMRI study:
– present same stimuli, and see which areas of brain
– results: differential activation of various areas in semantic-
interference condition relative to control condition;
consistent with phonological feedback.
(de Zubicaray,Wilson, McMahon & Muthiah, 2001)
Identifying neural bases of
 Grammatical gender:
– central aspect of lexical representation in many
 fMRI study: which areas of brain activated in
gender production?
– compared producing gender-marked determiner
with naming object itself.
– results: pronounced activation of single region in
Broca’s area when producing determiner.
(Heim, Opitz & Friederici, 2002).