Falk Huettig


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  • Rommers, J., Huettig, F., & Meyer, A. S. (2011). Task-dependency in the activation of visual representations during language processing. Poster presented at Tagung experimentell arbeitender Psychologen [TaeP 2011], Halle (Saale), Germany.
  • Rommers, J., Meyer, A. S., & Huettig, F. (2011). The timing of the on-line activation of visual shape information during sentence processing. Poster presented at the 17th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing [AMLaP 2011], Paris, France.
  • Weber, A., Sumner, M., Krott, A., Huettig, F., & Hanulikova, A. (2011). Sinking about boats and brains: Activation of word meaning in foreign-accented speech by native and nonnative listeners. Poster presented at the First International Conference on Cognitive Hearing Science for Communication, Linköping, Sweden.


    Sinking about boats and brains: activation of word meaning in foreign-accented speech by native and non-native listeners Andrea Weber, Meghan Sumner, Andrea Krott, Falk Huettig, Adriana Hanulikova Understanding foreign-accented speech requires from listeners the correct interpretation of segmental variation as in German-accented [s]eft for English theft. The task difficulty increases when the accented word forms resemble existing words as in [s]ink for think. In two English priming experiments, we investigated the activation of the meanings of intended and unintended words by accented primes. American native (L1) and German non-native (L2) participants listened to auditory primes followed by visual targets to which they made lexical decisions. Primes were produced by a native German speaker and were either nonsense words ([s]eft for theft), unintended words ([s]ink for think), or words in their canonical forms (salt for salt). Furthermore, primes were strongly associated to targets, with the co-occurrence being high either between the surface form of the prime and the target ([s]ink-BOAT, salt-PEPPER) or the underlying form and the target ([s]ink-BRAIN, seft-PRISON). L1 listeners responded faster when the underlying form was associated with the target (in comparison to unrelated primes), but L2 listeners responded faster when the surface form was associated. Seemingly, L1 listeners interpreted all primes as being mispronounced – facilitating the activation of think when hearing the unintended word [s]ink, but erroneously preventing the activation of salt when hearing the canonical form salt. L2 listeners, though, took primes at face value and failed to activate the meaning of think when hearing [s]ink but did activate the meaning of salt when hearing salt. This asymmetry suggests an interesting difference in the use of high-level information, with L1 listeners, but not L2 listeners, using knowledge about segmental variations for immediate meaning activation.
  • Huettig, F. (2010). Looking, language, and memory. Talk presented at Language, Cognition, and Emotion Workshop. Delhi, India. 2010-12-06 - 2010-12-06.
  • Huettig, F., & Gastel, A. (2010). Language-mediated eye movements and attentional control: Phonological and semantic competition effects are contigent upon scene complexity. Poster presented at the 16th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing [AMLaP 2010], York, UK.

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  • Huettig, F., Singh, N., & Mishra, R. (2010). Language-mediated prediction is contingent upon formal literacy. Talk presented at Brain, Speech and Orthography Workshop. Brussels, Belgium. 2010-10-15 - 2010-10-16.


    A wealth of research has demonstrated that prediction is a core feature of human information processing. Much less is known, however, about the nature and the extent of predictive processing abilities. Here we investigated whether high levels of language expertise attained through formal literacy are related to anticipatory language-mediated visual orienting. Indian low and high literates listened to simple spoken sentences containing a target word (e.g., "door") while at the same time looking at a visual display of four objects (a target, i.e. the door, and three distractors). The spoken sentences were constructed to encourage anticipatory eye movements to visual target objects. High literates started to shift their eye gaze to the target object well before target word onset. In the low literacy group this shift of eye gaze occurred more than a second later, well after the onset of the target. Our findings suggest that formal literacy is crucial for the fine-tuning of language-mediated anticipatory mechanisms, abilities which proficient language users can then exploit for other cognitive activities such as language-mediated visual orienting.
  • Huettig, F. (2010). Toddlers’ language-mediated visual search: They need not have the words for it. Talk presented at International Conference on Cognitive Development 2010. Allahabad, India. 2010-12-10 - 2010-12-13.


    Eye movements made by listeners during language-mediated visual search reveal a strong link between visual processing and conceptual processing. For example, upon hearing the word for a missing referent with a characteristic colour (e.g., “strawberry”), listeners tend to fixate a colour-matched distractor (e.g., a red plane) more than a colour-mismatched distractor (e.g., a yellow plane). We ask whether these shifts in visual attention are mediated by the retrieval of lexically stored colour labels. Do children who do not yet possess verbal labels for the colour attribute that spoken and viewed objects have in common exhibit language-mediated eye movements like those made by older children and adults? That is, do toddlers look at a red plane when hearing “strawberry”? We observed that 24-month-olds lacking colour-term knowledge nonetheless recognised the perceptual-conceptual commonality between named and seen objects. This indicates that language-mediated visual search need not depend on stored labels for concepts.
  • Rommers, J., Huettig, F., & Meyer, A. S. (2010). Task-dependency in the activation of visual representations during language comprehension. Poster presented at The Embodied Mind: Perspectives and Limitations, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
  • Rommers, J., Huettig, F., & Meyer, A. S. (2010). Task-dependent activation of visual representations during language comprehension. Poster presented at The 16th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing [AMLaP 2010], York, UK.
  • Huettig, F., Chen, J., Bowerman, M., & Majid, A. (2008). Linguistic relativity: Evidence from Mandarin speakers’ eye-movements. Talk presented at 14th Annual Conference on the Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing [AMLaP 2008]. Cambridge, UK. 2008-09-04 - 2008-09-06.


    If a Mandarin speaker had walked past two rivers and wished to describe how many he had seen, he would have to say “two tiao river”, where tiao designates long, rope-like objects such as rivers, snakes and legs. Tiao is one of several hundred classifiers – a grammatical category in Mandarin. In two eye-tracking studies we presented Mandarin speakers with simple Mandarin sentences through headphones while monitoring their eye-movements to objects presented on a computer monitor. The crucial question is what participants look at while listening to a pre-specified target noun. If classifier categories influence general conceptual processing then on hearing the target noun participants should look at objects that are also members of the same classifier category – even when the classifier is not explicitly present. For example, on hearing scissors, Mandarin speakers should look more at a picture of a chair than at an unrelated object because scissors and chair share the classifier ba. This would be consistent with a Strong Whorfian position, according to which language is a major determinant in shaping conceptual thought (Sapir, 1921; Whorf, 1956). A weaker influence of language-on-thought could be predicted, where language shapes cognitive processing, but only when the language-specific category is actively being processed (Slobin, 1996). According to this account, eye-movements are not necessarily drawn to chair when a participant hears scissors, but they would be on hearing ba scissors. This is because hearing ba activates the linguistic category that both scissors and chair belong to. A third logical possibility is that classifiers are purely formal markers (cf. Greenberg, 1972; Lehman, 1979) that do not influence attentional processing even when they are explicitly present. The data showed that when participants heard a spoken word from the same classifier category as a visually depicted object (e.g. scissors-chair), but the classifier was not explicitly presented in the speech, overt attention to classifier-match objects (e.g. chair) and distractor objects did not differ (Experiment 1). But when the classifier was explicitly presented (e.g. ba, Experiment 2), participants shifted overt attention significantly more to classifier-match objects (e.g. chair) than to distractors. These data are incompatible with the Strong Whorfian hypothesis. Instead the findings support the Weak Whorfian hypothesis that linguistic distinctions force attention to properties of the world but only during active linguistic processing of that distinction (cf. Slobin, 1996).

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