Participants needed for psycholinguistic experiment!

My PhD research combines methods from corpus linguistics and psychology in order to find out more about how language is processed in the brain. The method that I use from psychology is known as electroencephalography (EEG), and this involves placing electrodes across a participant’s scalp in order to detect some of the electrical activity of the brain. More specifically, I use the event-related potential (ERP) technique, which involves measuring the electrical activity of the brain in response to particular stimuli. When I carried out my pilot study earlier this year, this was the first time the EEG/ERP method had been used in the Department of Linguistics and Language, making it a really exciting project to get involved with.

Having completed my pilot study and obtained some really interesting results, I have refined my methods and hypotheses and I am now ready to recruit participants for my next two experiments. For one experiment which will take place in late August, I am looking for 16 native speakers of Mandarin Chinese; for another experiment which will take place in October, I am looking for 16 native speakers of English. I would really appreciate hearing from anyone who is interested in taking part! The whole procedure takes about 1 hour; it takes about 20-30 minutes for me to attach all of the electrodes, and the experiment itself takes an additional 20-30 minutes.

If you do decide to take part, you will wear a headcap containing 64 plastic electrode holders which the electrodes are clipped into, as well as 6 electrodes around your eyes and 2 electrodes behind your ears. The electrodes make contact with your skin via a conductive gel which enables some of the electrical signals in your brain to propagate to the electrode wires and into the AD-box, where the electrical signal is amplified and converted from analog to digital format. The amplified signals are then transmitted to the USB2 receiver via a fibre-optic cable, before being relayed onto the data acquisition computer where your brainwaves can be viewed as a continuous waveform. Before starting the experiment, I will ask you to blink, clench your teeth, and move your head from left to right so that you can see how these movements affect the observed waveform.

jen expermient

The experiment itself involves reading real language data that has been extracted from the British National Corpus. This consists of sentences which are presented word-by-word on a computer screen. After reading each sentence, you will be asked to respond to a true/false statement based on the sentence that you have just read.

Before conducting my pilot study, I carried out a number of test-runs on other postgraduate students and each one of them found it to be a really interesting experience. For instance, Gillian Smith, another PhD research student in CASS, agreed to take part in one of my test-runs and here she describes her experience as a participant:

“Getting to be involved in Jen’s experiment was a great opportunity! Having never participated in such a study before, I found the whole process (which Jen explained extremely well) very interesting. I particularly enjoyed being able to look at my brainwaves after, which is something I have never experienced. Likewise, having electrodes on my head was a lovely novelty.”

gill jen experiment


I would really like to hear from any native speakers of Mandarin Chinese or native speakers of English who would be interested in taking part in one of these experiments. Please email j.j.hughes(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)lancaster.ac.uk to express interest and to receive more information.

Corpus Data and Psycholinguistics Seminar

On the afternoon of Thursday 19th May 2016, CASS held its first ever psycholinguistics seminar which brought together researchers from both linguistics and psychology. The theme of the seminar was “Corpus Data and Psycholinguistics”, with a particular focus on experimental psycholinguistics.

The afternoon consisted of four 40-minute presentations which covered a range of different experimental methods including eye-tracking and EEG. Interestingly, the notion of collocation also emerged as a strong theme throughout the presentations. Different types of collocation were addressed, including bigrams, idioms, and compounds, and this prompted thought-provoking discussions about the nature of collocation and the relationship between psycholinguistic results and the different statistical measures of collocation strength.

The first presentation was delivered by Professor Padraic Monaghan from the Psychology Department at Lancaster University. In this presentation, Padraic provided an engaging introduction to computational modelling in psycholinguistics, focusing mainly on connectionist models where the input determines the structure of processing. This talk prompted a particularly interesting observation about the relationship between connectionist models and parts-of-speech tags in corpora.

In the second presentation, Dr Phil Durrant from the University of Exeter provided a critical perspective on his own earlier work into whether or not psycholinguistic priming is evident in collocations at different levels of frequency, and on the distinction between the related notions of collocation and psychological association. This presentation also provided a really interesting insight into the different ways in which corpus linguistics and psychological experimentation can be combined in psycholinguistic studies. This really helped to contextualise the studies reported in the other presentations within the field of psycholinguistics.

After a short break, I presented the results of the first of several studies which will make up my PhD thesis. This initial study pilots a procedure for using EEG to determine whether or not the brain is sensitive to the transition probabilities between words. This was an excellent opportunity for me to gain feedback on my work and I really appreciate the input and suggestions for further reading that I received from participants at this event.

The final presentation of the afternoon was delivered by Professor Michaela Mahlberg and Dr Gareth Carroll from the University of Birmingham. This presentation drew upon eye-tracking data from a study exploring literary reading in order to pinpoint the methodological issues associated with combining eye-tracking techniques with literary corpora, and with corpus data more generally.

With such an interesting series of talks sharing the theme of “Corpus Data and Psycholinguistics”, the CASS psycholinguistics seminar proved to be a very successful event. We would like to thank the presenters and all of the participants who attended the seminar for their contribution to the discussions, and we are really looking forward to hosting similar seminars in the near future.

Upcoming CASS Psycholinguistics Seminar

CASS is excited to announce an upcoming half-day research seminar on the theme of “Corpus Data and Psycholinguistics”. The event will take place on Thursday 19th May 2016 at 1-5pm in Furness Lecture Theatre 3.

The aim of the event is to bring together researchers with an interest in combining methods from corpus linguistics and psycholinguistics. In particular, there will be a focus on experimental psycholinguistics. It is set to be an exciting afternoon consisting of four 40-minute presentations from both internal and external speakers. Professor Padraic Monaghan from the Department of Psychology will be giving an introduction to computational modelling in psycholinguistics, and I will be presenting my work on investigating the processing of collocation using EEG. Furthermore, Dr Phil Durrant from the University of Exeter will be giving a talk entitled “Revisiting collocational priming”, and Professor Michaela Mahlberg from the University of Birmingham will be discussing the methodological issues associated with combining eye-tracking techniques with corpus data.

You can find out more about these talks from the abstracts below.


Padraic Monaghan, Lancaster University

Computational modelling of corpus data in psycholinguistic studies

Computational models of language learning and processing enable us to determine the inherent structure present in language input, and also the cognitive mechanisms that react to this structure. I will give an introduction to computational models used in psycholinguistic studies, with a particular focus on connectionist models where the structure of processing is derived principally from the structure of the input to the model.


Phil Durrant, University of Exeter

Revisiting collocational priming

Durrant & Doherty (2010) evaluated whether collocations at different levels of frequency exhibit psycholinguistic priming. It also attempted to untangle collocation from the related phenomenon of psychological association by comparing collocations which were and were not associates. Priming was found between high-frequency collocations but associated collocates appeared to exhibit more deep-rooted priming (as reflected in a task designed to reflect automatic, rather than strategic processes) than those which were not associated. This presentation will critically review the 2010 paper in light of more recent work. It will re-evaluate the study itself and suggest ways in which research could be taken forward.

Durrant, P., & Doherty, A. (2010). Are high-frequency collocations psychologically real? Investigating the thesis of collocational priming. Corpus linguistics and linguistic theory, 6(2), 125-155.


Jennifer Hughes, Lancaster University

Investigating the processing of collocation using EEG: A pilot study

In this presentation, I discuss the results of an EEG experiment which pilots a procedure for determining whether or not there is a quantitively distinct brain response to the processing of collocational bigrams compared to non-collocational bigrams. Collocational bigrams are defined as adjacent word pairs which have a high forward transitional probability in the BNC (e.g. crucial point), while non-collocational bigrams are defined as adjacent word pairs which are semantically plausible but are absent from the BNC (e.g. crucial night). The results show that there is a neurophysiological difference in how collocational bigrams and non-collocations bigrams are processed.


Michaela Mahlberg, Kathy Conklin, and Gareth Carrol, University of Birmingham

Exploring corpus-attested patterns in Dickens’s fiction – methodological challenges of using eye-tracking techniques

The study of the relationship between patterns and meanings is a key concern in corpus linguistics. The data that corpus linguists work with, however, only provides a partial picture. In this paper, we will look at how questions of frequencies in corpora can be related to questions raised by data from eye-tracking studies on reading times. We will also discuss challenges of designing experiments to address these questions. As a case study, we focus on examples of patterns identified in Dickens’s fiction, but the methodological issues we address have wider implications beyond the study of literary corpora.


The event is free to attend and is open to both internal and external attendees. If you are an external guest, please email j.j.hughes(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)lancaster.ac.uk so we know that you intend to come.

We are really looking forward to this event as it will be an exciting opportunity to share ideas regarding the different approaches to using corpus data in experimental psycholinguistics.

Participants needed for EEG experiment!

For my PhD I am trying to find out how language is processed in the brain by combining methods from corpus linguistics and psycholinguistics. Specifically, I have extracted real language data from the British National Corpus and modified this data so that it can be presented to participants in an electroencephalography (EEG) experiment. In EEG experiments, electrodes are placed on a participant’s head and these electrodes detect some of the electrical activity that occurs in the participant’s brain in response to particular stimuli. EEG experiments are frequently conducted in Lancaster’s Psychology Department but they have not yet been conducted in the Department of Linguistics and English Language, so it’s really exciting to try out this method which is new to the department.

When conducting an EEG experiment, I start by taking head measurements and then placing a headcap on the participant’s head. This headcap contains 64 electrode holders which I fill with conductive gel before placing an electrode into each one. I also attach some additional electrodes behind the ears and around the eyes. Once all of the electrodes are in place, the stimuli is displayed to the participant on a computer screen. This stimuli consists of sentences that are presented word-by-word, as well as true/false statements that are presented as whole sentences. Participants just need to read the word-by-word sentences and respond to the true/false statement by pressing either the ‘T’ or the ‘F’ key on the keyboard. While they’re doing this, the electrodes detect some of the electrical activity that is happening in the brain, and this information is sent to another computer which displays the electrical activity as a continuous waveform. The setup of the experiment can be seen in the diagram below.

Jen experiment

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout my PhD I will be conducting a series of experiments starting with a pilot study. In my pilot study, the experiment itself lasts for just 10 minutes but it can take me up to an hour to attach all of the electrodes. This preparation time should decrease as I carry it out on more and more participants.

I have already conducted several practice runs of my experiment with other postgraduate students. For example, Gillian Smith, another PhD research student in CASS, agreed to take part in one of my practice runs and here she describes her experience as a participant:

Jen experiment Gill

 

“Getting to be involved in Jen’s experiment was a great opportunity! Having never participated in such a study before, I found the whole process (which Jen explained extremely well) very interesting. I particularly enjoyed being able to look at my brainwaves after, which is something I have never experienced. Likewise, having electrodes on my head was a lovely novelty.”

 

 

I am currently looking for 15 native speakers of English to take part in my pilot study.

If you are interested in taking part in this experiment please email j.j.hughes(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)lancaster.ac.uk for more information.

Introducing Challenge Panel Member: Michael Hoey

We are extraordinarily pleased to announce Michael Hoey’s membership to the CASS Challenge Panel. Below, Professor Hoey shares a bit about his personal and professional successes. 


I am a funny kind of corpus linguist in that all my publications for the first twenty years of my career were devoted to the study of written discourse analysis. However I had co-authored (with Sue Atkins), under John Sinclair’s direction, the proposal to Collins Publishers that led to the development of the Collins COBUILD dictionary at the University of Birmingham and I inevitably become heavily involved with the running of the project, working closely both with Antoinette Renouf and Patrick Hanks as they wrestled the first-ever corpus-driven dictionary into shape. Without realising it, I was slowly mutating into a corpus linguist, and when near the end of my time at the University of Birmingham I was asked whether I would like to write one of their little COBUILD handbooks on lexical signalling, I leapt at the opportunity. The handbook, though, never appeared – the more I investigated the ways the words were used, the more radical my thoughts on the way language is organised became, and when I was appointed to a Chair at the University of Liverpool, my inaugural lecture was on corpus linguistics.

The second 20 years of my career have seen few discourse analytical publications but more and more corpus linguistic, and particularly lexical priming, papers and books. My corpus linguistic perspective, though still heavily influenced by John Sinclair, one of three giant figures in my development (the others being Randolph Quirk and Eugene Winter), has become ever more eclectic but I am convinced that the current findings of corpus linguists of every tradition not only torpedo most of the major models of linguistics of the past 100 years but point to a quite different way in which language should be conceived, as having a complex lexicon and a very simple grammar. I also believe that we urgently need to link up corpus thinking with psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic thinking that has been done by psychologists and sociologists, rather than tame adherents of existing linguistic models.

The ‘Who’s Who’ facts about me are that I am currently Pro-Vice Chancellor for Internationalisation, Director of the Liverpool Confucius Institute and Baines Professor of English Language at the University of Liverpool. I am an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences and a member of Council of the University of Chester. I am also a proud grandfather, an inveterate traveller (even when not on University business), a Christian and the former editor of a magazine on beer ‘Ale & Hearty’. Indeed my book on the real ale pubs in the area around Southport has, I regret, been my only best-seller.


Did you miss our previous introductions? Click through to read about Challenge Panel members Alan PartingtonMark Davies and Stefan Th. Gries