Lexical Preactivation in Basic Linguistic Phrases

Joseph Fruchter, Tal Linzen, Masha Westerlund, Alec Marantz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many previous studies have shown that predictable words are read faster and lead to reduced neural activation, consistent with a model of reading in which words are activated in advance of being encountered. The nature of such preactivation, however, has typically been studied indirectly through its subsequent effect on word recognition. Here, we use magnetoencephalography to study the dynamics of prediction within serially presented adjective-noun phrases, beginning at the point at which the predictive information is first available to the reader. Using corpus transitional probability to estimate the predictability of a noun, we found an increase in activity in the left middle temporal gyrus in response to the presentation of highly predictive adjectives (i.e., adjectives that license a strong noun prediction). Moreover, we found that adjective predictivity and expected noun frequency interacted, such that the response to the highly predictive adjectives (e.g., stainless) was modulated by the frequency of the expected noun (steel). These results likely reflect preactivation of nouns in highly predictive contexts. The fact that the preactivation process was modulated by the frequency of the predicted item is argued to provide support for a frequency-sensitive lexicon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1912-35
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2015


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