Colin Phillips, Univ of Maryland

Speaking, understanding, and the architecture of language

We speak and understand the same language, but it’s generally assumed that language production and comprehension are subserved by separate cognitive systems. So they must presumably draw on a third, task-neutral cognitive system (“grammar”). So comprehension-production differences are a thorn in the side of anybody who might want to collapse grammar and language processing mechanisms (i.e., me!). In this talk I will show how the same underlying mechanism can have rather different surface effects in speaking and understanding. In production, I will discuss studies in English and Japanese that show syntactically constrained look-ahead in sentence planning, and that show that syntactic category acts as a strong filter on lexical access. In comprehension, I will discuss ERP studies in English, Mandarin, and Japanese that illustrate surprisingly “dumb” word prediction mechanisms. These predictive mechanisms are nevertheless subject to the same category constraint observed in sentence production, as reflected in different effects of case marker manipulation.