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Review of  Methodological and Analytic Frontiers in Lexical Research

Reviewer: Jon Clenton
Book Title: Methodological and Analytic Frontiers in Lexical Research
Book Author: Gary Libben Gonia Jarema Chris Westbury
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 24.2626

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This book brings together recent studies on lexical research and serves to provide insights into developments in research methodology. It presents nineteen studies that document new developments and offers a resource for analysis of research to date as well as future directions.

The first chapter (‘The Challenge of embracing complexity’, by Gary Libben, Chris Westbury, and Gonia Jarema) discusses new analytic techniques and outlines improved statistical analyses, as well as increased understanding of constructs in the shift from hypothesis testing to model comparison. They also comment on the role implemented models play in advancing knowledge and reference is made to subsequent chapters that provide further discussion.

The second chapter (‘Measures of phonological typicality: Robust coherence and psychological validity’, by Padriac Monoghan, Morten H. Christiansen, Thomas A. Farmer, and Stanka A. Fitneva) presents an overview of the Phonological Typicality (PT) construct, a psycholinguistic construct reflecting the extent to which a word’s phonology is similar to that of other words in the same lexical category. The authors suggest the PT construct has radical implications for language learning as well as access and posit that word retrieval is related to interconnected properties which include phonology and syntax, a worthy topic for future studies.

The third chapter (‘Assessing language impairment in aphasia: Going beyond pencils and paper in the computer age’, by Chris Westbury), presents a critical review of how neuro-linguistic theory and aphasia assessment practice have historically informed each other. The author argues against traditional aphasia instruments (such as norms not being available for all subjects) and for computerisation or automated means of assessment (such as being able to provide an evolving digital battery which has the potential to be readily and easily accessible to all users) to provide more accurate clinical judgement.

The fourth chapter (‘Behavioural profiles: A fine-grained and quantitative approach in corpus-based lexical semantics’, by Stefan Th. Gries) provides a critical analysis of traditional corpus based linguistic work in lexical semantics (in terms of three categories of difficulty: limited range, problematic data and methods, lack of practical implications for findings). Gries provides experimental data which validate the Behavioural Profile (BP) method and suggests that the BP approach addresses these categories of problems.

The fifth chapter (‘Using a maze task to track lexical and sentence processing’, by Kenneth Forster) critically reviews self-paced reading tasks, eye-tracking, and other common methods for studying on-line sentence processing. The maze task requires subjects to choose one of two items in a constrained task defined by an examiner and provides valuable information for the examiner such as how sentences are processed or the time taken to assimilate items. Forster provides an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the task and suggests that the maze task might support second language learning.

The sixth chapter (‘Stimulus norming: It is too soon to close down brick-and-mortar labs’, by Lee H. Wurm and Annmarie Cano) reviews critically potential problems in using different norming methods by highlighting the differences between stimulus norms obtained via the internet as opposed to those obtained by computer in a laboratory. They suggest that online stimulus norming is likely to become increasingly more common and warns that researchers should not assume norm equivalence.

The seventh chapter (‘Connectionism and the role of morphology in visual word recognition’, by Jay G. Rueckl) provides a review of the connectionist perspective, which views morphological effects as the influence of statistical regularities in the mappings between (orthographic and phonological) form and meaning, on the role of morphology in visual word recognition. Rueckl outlines the ‘neurally inspired’ connectionist model, which are meant to mirror the structures and processes found in the brain, and suggests that this view, in challenging the traditional information-processing accounts, needs explanation in its own right.

The eighth chapter (‘Towards a localist-connectionist model of word translation’, by Ton Dijkstra and Steven Rekke) outlines how the assumptions made by the Revised Hierarchical Model and the Bilingual Interactive Model can be combined to explain word translation. Dijkstra and Rekke outline the implications their model this has for conventional word processing and propose detailed computer simulations to develop their word translation theories.

The ninth chapter (‘Chinese as a natural experiment’, by James Myers) presents practical examples from Mandarin to suggest that psycholinguistics should focus on the bigger picture and attempt to provide a universal learning model. Myers proposes data mining studies on a grand scale whilst warning of the challenges of conducting such a large undertaking.

The tenth chapter (‘Demythologizing the word frequency effect: A discriminative learning perspective’, by R. Harald Baayen) presents a new theoretical model of word frequency effects. Baayen proposes how frequency of occurrence only partially serves to account for lexical learning (other factors include syntactic family size, morphological family size, and BNC dispersion) and also suggests that the learning of words amounts to learning to associate complex information in the input with word meanings.

The eleventh chapter (‘Lexical knowledge without a lexicon?’, by Jeffrey L. Elman) proposes that the mental lexicon does not exist and that there are no syntactic rules in the usual senses. Elman proposes that the traditional concept of the mental lexicon imposes limits on the lexicon’s content and, alternatively, that we ought to view a behaviourally informed connectionist network model which view considers multiple inputs (linguistic and non-linguistic) in terms of the modalities in which we experience the world.

The twelfth chapter (‘Detecting inherent bias in lexical decision experiments with LD1NN algorithm’ by Emmanuel Keuleers and Marc Brysbaert) documents systematic bias with the lexical decision task, using an algorithm, LD1NN. The lexical decision task requires respondents to decide if a presented string is a word and the time required is taken as a measure of accessibility of the word in the mental lexicon.

The thirteenth chapter (‘A technical introduction to using speakers’ eye movements to study language’, by Zenzi M. Griffin and Jordan C. Davison) presents a history of eye movement monitoring in language production research, the relationship between visual attention and eye movements, and the practical issues related to collecting and analysing gaze data.

The fourteenth chapter (‘Eye movements and morphological processing in reading’, by Raymond Bertram), reviews and argues for increased use of measures in eye-tracking experiments that are focused on morphology. Bertram also outlines how to conduct and analyse normal eye movement experiments. The paper outlines the potential and the complexity of eye movement research in relation to complex word processing.

The fifteenth chapter (‘Spelling strategies in alphabetic scripts: Insights gained and challenges ahead’, by Dominiek Sandra) proposes a statistical theoretical as opposed to a rule-based framework for understanding spelling. Sandra also suggests that this phenomena is likely to be wide spread rather than language specific. Sandra highlights that the idea of statistical learning has gradually replaced rule-based description of human behaviour in many cognitive domains and suggests that the data discussed in this paper suggest that this will likely also happen in the study of spelling behaviour also.

The sixteenth chapter (‘The EEG/ERP technologies in linguistic research: An essay on the advantages they offer and a survey of their purveyors’, Brigitte Stemmer and John F. Connolly) discusses what EEG can offer to psycholinguistic theory development along with a survey of providers. The paper provides an overview of the main electroencephalography/event-related potentials (EEG/ERP) hardware systems and software development currently available on the market.

The seventeenth chapter (‘Formulaic sequences: Do they exist and do they matter?’, by Cyrus Shaoul and Chris Westbury) summarises evidence for the existence of distinct mental representations for multi-word sentences and highlights how knowledge of these sentences relates to word, phrase, and sentence knowledge. Their paper implies that with the use of massive-data driven inferences there are seismic shifts taking place in the way that language is represented and conceived of.

The eighteenth chapter (‘Fractal and recurrence analysis of psycholinguistic data’, by Sebastian Wallot, Beth A. O’Brien, and Guy Van Orden) promotes a non-linear dynamic system approach to the study of language systems. The chapter shows nonlinear methods of data analyses for time series reading times from a self-paced reading task. The paper presents example data from adult learners and offers a tutorial in using the tools of nonlinear dynamics.

The nineteenth chapter (‘Brain imaging and conceptions of the lexicon’, by Jed A. Meltzer) discusses approaches to the design and analysis of single-trial neuroimaging techniques in the study of word pronunciation, with a focus on picture naming. The paper highlights how techniques that once were designed to assess stages in reaction times can now be applied to brain imaging studies to reveal neural localization of those stages. Meltzer suggests that based on such advances, EEG and MEG imaging will soon have the potential to map the neural processing involved in language comprehension and production.

This book is intended for researchers in the field of lexical processing. The volume provides an understanding of new developments, relationships, investigations and complexities across and within the field. It offers a platform for methodological dialogue as well as providing researchers with a resource to better understand current and key issues, including those of change, relationship to other areas of lexical processing, technical considerations, and to supplement reading of the literature. The chapters will appeal to a broad readership considering the variety of approaches to the study of lexical research included, each providing a unique insight into recent advancements and opportunities for development of research methodology. Throughout the volume underlying assumptions are picked apart, re-examined, and re-evaluated and, for instance, this includes papers, such as in chapter 8, which suggest that a combination of bilingual models can better explain word translation than existing, and traditionally conceived, models, or, in chapter 11, which suggest that the traditional mental lexicon does not exist. Chapter 9, similarly, suggests data mining on a massive scale to challenge traditional studies and test language specific lexical processing. The chapter is ambitious (‘it is time for linguists to think in terms of big science’), proposing methodological steps to take on all languages. The editors appear to have achieved their aims with this volume in the sense that lexical processing practitioners will find something of interest here. The book is wide-ranging, covering a clear variety of approaches. The insights on offer, in general terms, suggest that the field is at a turning point due, in part, to increased use of technology. Chapter, 3, outlining how aphasia assessment might improve by ‘going beyond pencils and paper in the computer age’, is a stimulating read and suggestive of how technology, while not necessarily a panacea, offers automation and data delivery on such a massive scale that its merits can no longer be ignored.

Almost every paper raises questions for future research and includes proposals on how to pursue it. I was especially interested in 14, on how to conduct and analyse eye movement experiments, showing the potential of eye movement research.

I have some minor issues. First, I was unable to find any cross-referencing between papers or in the preface. In this respect, and for a volume outlining the increasing complexity within the field, this gap struck me as suggestive of a lack of relationship, rather than the claimed ‘bringing together’ between the different works. There are quite obvious connections worth exploiting and pointing out (e.g. the two papers on eye movement tracking (13 and 14), conceptions of the lexicon and the potential lack of a lexicon (19 and 11), various chapters proposing increased use of technology (e.g. 3, 9, 13, 16). Making such connections would bolster a volume of this importance and reach. Second, and less importantly, I couldn’t quite understand why there were no chapter numbers in a volume of this size. With nineteen papers access would be improved by including chapter numbers. A final note is that there are errors in the volume. Page x of the preface refers to the two final chapters in the book with mismatched titles: Chapter 18 is actually ‘Fractal and recurrence analysis of psycholinguistic data’ not ‘Nonlinear analyses of self-paced reading’, and chapter 19 is actually ‘Brain imaging and conception of the lexicon’ not ‘Localising the component process of lexical access using modern neuroimaging techniques’.

Despite these minor issues, I highly recommend this volume to researchers within the field of lexical research for its collation of such stimulating and contemporary work.
Jon Clenton teaches English and language acquisition at Osaka University's Graduate School of Language and Culture, Japan. His current research focuses on developmental work on vocabulary testing and the extent to which bilingual models can tell us about the network metaphor and L2 proficiency.