Silvia Gennari

University of York



Linking brain and behaviour: Similarity-based competition in production and comprehension

This talk presents work investigating the role of semantic similarity in the production and comprehension of referential descriptive phrases. Previous research suggests that noun animacy modulates structural preferences in production and processing difficulty in comprehension. For example, animate-head phrases such as “the girl that the boy is pulling” are rare in production and difficult to understand in comprehension. In contrast, passive phrases such as “the girl being pulled by the boy” and inanimate-head active phrases such as “the truck the boy is pulling” are commonly produced and more easily understood. Here, we report several picture-based production and comprehension studies manipulating the degree of semantic similarity between the relevant noun concepts (e.g., boy-girl, man-dog). Behavioural studies show that structural preferences and fixation probabilities in production, and difficulty in comprehension significantly correlate with conceptual similarity measures. Moreover, neuroimaging studies indicate that semantic similarity modulates brain activity in the left inferior frontal gyrus in both production and comprehension, despite task-specific activations. It is argued that similarity-based competition modulates phrase production and comprehension and recruits common neural processes when linguistic information is transiently activated during task performance. This suggests a common architecture underlying both production and comprehension.


Present Senior Lecturer, University of York
2004 Lecturer, University of Sussex
2002 Research Fellow, University of Wisconsin, Dept. of Psychology
2000 Postdoctoral Fellow, U. Maryland, Cognitive Neuroscience of Language Lab
1999 Ph.D. Cognitive and Linguistics Sciences. Brown University, USA.
1996 M.A. Cognitive and Linguistics Sciences. Brown University, USA.
1990 M.A. Linguistics. Comahue National University, Argentina.