Speech register influences listeners’ word expectations

Bentum, M., Ten Bosch, L., Van den Bosch, A., & Ernestus, M. (2022). Speech register influences listeners’ word expectations. Brain and Language, 235: 105197. doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2022.105197.
We utilized the N400 effect to investigate the influence of speech register on predictive language processing. Participants listened to long stretches (4 – 15 min) of naturalistic speech from different registers (dialogues, news broadcasts, and read-aloud books), totalling approximately 50,000 words, while the EEG signal was recorded. We estimated the surprisal of words in the speech materials with the aid of a statistical language model in such a manner that it reflected different predictive processing strategies; generic, register-specific, or recency-based. The N400 amplitude was best predicted with register-specific word surprisal, indicating that the statistics of the wider context (i.e., register) influences predictive language processing. Furthermore, adaptation to speech register cannot merely be explained by recency effects; instead, listeners adapt their word anticipations to the presented speech register.
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