The mental lexicon
LG 103 Introduction to psycholinguistics
Celia (Vasiliki) Antoniou
What is the mental lexicon?
• The mental lexicon is defined as a mental
dictionary that contains information regarding
a word's meaning, pronunciation, syntactic
characteristics, and so on
• There’s no simple answer to this...
• Do we store every single word or just lemmas?
• (i.e. drink only, or drink, drinking, drunk,
drank, etc...)?
• The mental lexicon differs from the lexicon in that it
is not just a general collection of words.
• It deals with how those words are activated, stored,
processed, and retrieved by each speaker.
• What do the previous terms refer to??
• An individual’s mental lexicon changes and grows as
new words are learned and is always developing.
• However, there are several theorists that argue
exactly how this occurs.
• The mental lexicon is not organized alphabetically like a
• The active nature of the mental lexicon makes any dictionary
comparison unhelpful.
• It seems to be organized in a more complex manner, with links
between phonologically and semantically related lexical items.
• How do we know?
• A speech error, commonly referred to as a slip of the
tongue[1] (Latin: lapsus linguae), is a deviation (conscious or
unconscious) from the apparently intended form of an
• Anecdote for antidote
• If you took part in a lexical decision task, what
would you be asked to do?
• Participants in this task are required to respond
as quickly and accurately as possible to a string
of letters presented on a screen to say if the
string is a non-word or a real word.
• They have been used for many years to show
how the words are linked in our minds + how
the mental lexicon is structured.
• It is also called....
So what?
• Response time to these words is faster/slower if that
word was heard/seen recently???
• Reaction times from this task indicate that certain
words are more "active" in participants minds after
related words have been presented.
• i.e. present the word "bread" to the participant and
then see an increased reaction time later to the word
• The word "bread" had activated all related words,
including "butter“ so the recognition process was
• This increased reaction time demonstrates that related
words are stored closely in the mental lexicon.
Response time
Fast lexical decision
Relatively quick lexical
Slow lexical decision
1 entry
No priming, they are 2
Back to handouts!
Cross – modal priming
• What is it?
• Prime is presented auditorily, target presented
visually on screen
• Used to show that by hearing only the first
part of a word, all possible continuations are
• E.g. on hearing “carp...” both carpet and
carpenter are activated!
Why and how to use it?
• During this task, study participants heard recorded
sentences containing lexical or syntactic ambiguities while
seated in front of a computer screen.
• When the ambiguous word or phrase was uttered in the
recording, a simultaneous string of letters, either a word or
a non-word, is flashed on the computer screen.
• These words usually reflected one or another meaning of
an ambiguous word or phrase in the recorded sentence.
• Study participants were then asked to respond as quickly as
possible once the probes were processed.
• The idea is that multiple meanings are activated at the
moment an ambiguity is encountered in a sentence, which
primes related concepts.
• Swinney’s theory (1979) follows that once these related
concepts are primed, recognition of them in this task will
be quicker than words that are not activated.
So, what kind of priming to we have in 2?
Any questions??