Effect of Discourse Context on Sentence Comprehension and Production Using Cross-Modality Structural Priming: Evidence from Monologue and Dialogue with Native- and Foreign-Accented Speakers

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Litcofsky, Kaitlyn Ann
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 07, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Janet G Van Hell, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Janet G Van Hell, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Judith F Kroll, Committee Member
  • Koraly Perez-Edgar, Committee Member
  • Carrie N Jackson, Outside Member
  • Dialogue
  • Comprehension and Production
  • Foreign-Accented Speech
  • Cross-Modal Structural Priming
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Cognitive Psychology
Everyday language use consists of communication through dialogue. In one turn of a dialogue, one individual uses speech to convey their thoughts and the other individual listens to that speech signal to understand its meaning. On the next dialogue turn, the order of events is reversed. Thus, every speaker is also a listener, and every listener a speaker. Despite the prevalence of conversation in daily life, most psycholinguistic models and research only focus on language processing in monologue situations, and target production and comprehension separately. When dialogue is addressed, the speaker and listener are often assumed to be separate individuals. However, recent theories have postulated that the production and comprehension actually share underlying processing mechanisms and representations and are linked across individuals (Dell & Chang, 2014; MacDonald, 2013; Pickering & Garrod, 2004; 2013a). Chapter 2 will extend this hypothesis to test whether production and comprehension are also linked within an individual. Participants engaged in speaking and listening by describing pictures and listening to sentences in two cross-modality structural priming tasks of active and passive sentences. Comprehension-to- Production priming was measured in three ways: syntactic choice (proportion of passive descriptions), response time, and average syllable duration. Production-to-Comprehension priming was measured using event-related potentials (ERPs). Priming was found in both tasks: in production, priming was found in terms of syntactic choice, where a higher proportion of passives were produced following passive, than active primes, and in comprehension, priming was found in terms of a reduced N400 to primed, as compared to unprimed, passive target sentences. Thus, Chapter 2 developed a novel cross-modality priming paradigm involving EEG and supports the ideas that production and comprehension are linked within an individual and share aspects of processing, as predicted by recent theories (Dell & Chang, 2014; MacDonald, 2013; Pickering & Garrod, 2004; 2013a). Chapter 3 extended the paradigm of Chapter 2 to investigate speaking and listening in a dialogue context to determine whether alignment between interlocutors resonates to alignment between production and comprehension within an individual. In addition, to capture some of the variation in natural conversation, Chapter 3 investigated how social factors, here accent, impact the relationship between production and comprehension within an individual. Adding the confederate-scripted technique to the cross-modality structural priming paradigm used in Chapter 2, the relationship between production and comprehension was examined in two dialogue contexts: with a native speaker (Experiment 1) and with a foreign-accented speaker (Experiment 2). Participants completed the same two cross-modality priming tasks as in Chapter 2, but this time interacted with a native-speaking or foreign-accented confederate. Comprehension to production priming, in terms of syntactic choice, was found in both experiments, though it decreased over time in dialogue with a foreign-accented speaker. Production to comprehension priming was found in dialogue with a native-accented speaker in terms of a reduced N400 that was most prominent in the second half of the experiment, but no evidence of priming into comprehension was found in dialogue with a foreign-accented speaker. These results suggest that the influence of between-individual alignment on within-individual alignment only emerges once the interlocutors get to know each other and that structural alignment depends on the accent of the interlocutor. All together, these studies present a novel methodology to study language processing in a more ecologically valid way while maintaining tight experimental control and suggest that individuals’ language processing varies based on dialogue context and social factors such as accent.