June 17: Adam King


The lexicon is shaped for incremental processing

Adam King, University of Arizona

Monday, June 17
11:00am – 12:30pm
DSB, room 1.17

In this talk, I will present data to show the lexicon is shaped for efficient word recognition and ask how this shaping came to pass. A cornerstone in the study of language as an efficient communication system is Zipf’s law of abbreviation: probable words are shorter, less probable words are longer. On one hand, short, probable words benefit the speaker while long, less probable words benefit the listener as listeners likely need more information from the acoustics of less probable word to accurate identify it. However, not all parts of a word contribute equal disambiguating information to word identification. Spoken word processing is incremental and competitive, meaning that sounds that distinguish a particular word from many competitors are qualitatively more informative.
From a diverse set of languages, I will show that less probable words contain qualitatively higher information sounds and that these sounds are positioned where they contribute most to word identification, i.e., early. In addition, I will present simulation data that show the lexicon can develop the patterns mentioned above from simple generation-to-generation changes based on the words themselves and not from a lexicon-wide optimization to a global maximum.