Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - FAHMRRR


One of the sub-projects of Katharina Spalek’s ERC project “Focus Alternatives in the Human Mind: Retrieval, Representation, and Recall” is titled “Retrieval”. Previous research has shown that when listeners hear a focused word or phrase (e.g. Maria saw an ELEPHANT at the zoo), they activate a set of alternatives for this focused word or phrase, namely other words that could substitute it in the given context (e.g. giraffe, monkey, bear). This part of the project investigates the question whether speakers, too, select a focused word or phrase from a set of focus alternatives when planning utterances.

To answer this question, we conduct a series of experiments. These include behavioural experiments, where we measure participants’ reaction times in a variety of tasks during speech production, and EEG-experiments, where we analyse participants’ brain waves, while they complete tasks linked to speech production.

First results indicate that a set of focus alternatives is being activated when planning to produce an utterance including a focused word. These alternatives seem to be inhibited during speech production, meaning that a speaker takes longer to retrieve these words from their mental lexicon than words that are no alternatives.

As speech production and speech perception seem to differ in this respect (alternatives are more easily retrieved from the mental lexicon during language perception), we set out to investigate the difference between production and perception in more detail.


Researchers in charge: Beate Bergmann