Skilled adult readers activate the meanings of high-frequency words using phonology: Evidence from eye tracking.
Memory & cognition
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We examined whether highly skilled adult readers activate the meanings of high-frequency words using phonology when reading sentences for meaning. A homophone-error paradigm was used. Sentences were written to fit 1 member of a homophone pair, and then 2 other versions were created in which the homophone was replaced by its mate or a spelling-control word. The error words were all high-frequency words, and the correct homophones were either higher-frequency words or low-frequency words-that is, the homophone errors were either the subordinate or dominant member of the pair. Participants read sentences as their eye movements were tracked. When the high-frequency homophone error words were the subordinate member of the homophone pair, participants had shorter immediate eye-fixation latencies on these words than on matched spelling-control words. In contrast, when the high-frequency homophone error words were the dominant member of the homophone pair, a difference between these words and spelling controls was delayed. These findings provide clear evidence that the meanings of high-frequency words are activated by phonological representations when skilled readers read sentences for meaning. Explanations of the differing patterns of results depending on homophone dominance are discussed.