HESP Seminar: "Cognitive control in language processing"

Monday, October 16, 2023
12:00 p.m.
2166 LeFrak Hall

Speaker: Tal Ness (University of Maryland, College Park)

Title: "Cognitive control in language processing"

Abstract: During language processing, comprehenders must dynamically weigh various cues to interpretation, to guide real-time processing decisions. Sometimes, however, these cues conflict, pointing to different and incompatible interpretations. For example, a sentence such as “The hearty meal was devouring”, which might arise as a production error that the comprehender must repair, induces a syntax-semantics conflict: Morpho-syntactic cues point to ‘meal’ being the Agent of ‘devour’, while the implausibility of meals as Agents of ‘devour’, together with the likelihood of the producer mistakenly producing ‘devouring’ instead of ‘devoured’, points to ‘meal’ being the Theme of ‘devour’. This results in a representational conflict, as two interpretations (meal-is-agent and meal-is-theme) are briefly simultaneously activated and one needs to be selected. In this talk I will cover experimental evidence, from EEG and behavioral studies, indicating that conflict between simultaneously activated linguistic representations triggers rapid recruitment of cognitive control, a domain-general executive function. Cognitive control then serves as a biasing mechanism, boosting the most reliable cues to interpretation in order to resolve the conflict and arrive at the most likely intended meaning.

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