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Effects of word frequency and transitional probability on word reading durations of younger and older speakers

Moers, C., Meyer, A. S., & Janse, E. (2017). Effects of word frequency and transitional probability on word reading durations of younger and older speakers. Language and Speech, 60(2), 289-317. doi:10.1177/0023830916649215.
High-frequency units are usually processed faster than low-frequency units in language comprehension and language production. Frequency effects have been shown for words as well as word combinations. Word co-occurrence effects can be operationalized in terms of transitional probability (TP). TPs reflect how probable a word is, conditioned by its right or left neighbouring word. This corpus study investigates whether three different age groups–younger children (8–12 years), adolescents (12–18 years) and older (62–95 years) Dutch speakers–show frequency and TP context effects on spoken word durations in reading aloud, and whether age groups differ in the size of these effects. Results show consistent effects of TP on word durations for all age groups. Thus, TP seems to influence the processing of words in context, beyond the well-established effect of word frequency, across the entire age range. However, the study also indicates that age groups differ in the size of TP effects, with older adults having smaller TP effects than adolescent readers. Our results show that probabilistic reduction effects in reading aloud may at least partly stem from contextual facilitation that leads to faster reading times in skilled readers, as well as in young language learners.
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