A computational model of reading across development: Effects of literacy onset on language processing
Chang, Y.-N., Monaghan, P., & Welbourne, S.
A computational model of reading across development: Effects of literacy onset on language processing. Journal of Memory and Language, 108
: 104025. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2019.05.003.
Cognitive development is shaped by interactions between cognitive architecture and environmental experiences
of the growing brain. We examined the extent to which this interaction during development could be observed in
language processing. We focused on age of acquisition (AoA) effects in reading, where early-learned words tend
to be processed more quickly and accurately relative to later-learned words. We implemented a computational
model including representations of print, sound and meaning of words, with training based on children’s gradual
exposure to language. The model produced AoA effects in reading and lexical decision, replicating the larger
effects of AoA when semantic representations are involved. Further, the model predicted that AoA would relate
to differing use of the reading system, with words acquired before versus after literacy onset with distinctive
accessing of meaning and sound representations. An analysis of behaviour from the English Lexicon project was
consistent with the predictions: Words acquired before literacy are more likely to access meaning via sound,
showing a suppressed AoA effect, whereas words acquired after literacy rely more on direct print to meaning
mappings, showing an exaggerated AoA effect. The reading system reveals vestigial traces of acquisition reflected
in differing use of word representations during reading.