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Four central questions about prediction in language processing

Huettig, F. (2015). Four central questions about prediction in language processing. Brain Research, 1626, 118-135. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2015.02.014.
The notion that prediction is a fundamental principle of human information processing has been en vogue over recent years. The investigation of language processing may be particularly illuminating for testing this claim. Linguists traditionally have argued prediction plays only a minor role during language understanding because of the vast possibilities available to the language user as each word is encountered. In the present review I consider four central questions of anticipatory language processing: Why (i.e. what is the function of prediction in language processing)? What (i.e. what are the cues used to predict up-coming linguistic information and what type of representations are predicted)? How (what mechanisms are involved in predictive language processing and what is the role of possible mediating factors such as working memory)? When (i.e. do individuals always predict up-coming input during language processing)? I propose that prediction occurs via a set of diverse PACS (production-, association-, combinatorial-, and simulation-based prediction) mechanisms which are minimally required for a comprehensive account of predictive language processing. Models of anticipatory language processing must be revised to take multiple mechanisms, mediating factors, and situational context into account. Finally, I conjecture that the evidence considered here is consistent with the notion that prediction is an important aspect but not a fundamental principle of language processing.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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