Brown bag talk by Greg Maciejewski on “Learning new word meanings comes at a price”

Speaker: Greg Maciejewski

Title: Learning new word meanings comes at a price

Date: Friday 11 August at 12:30pm 

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room) 


Language is perpetually in flux, such that we must often learn new meanings for words we already know. We have, for example, recently learnt that a “troll” is not only a giant, but also a person that makes deliberately offensive and provocative comments on social media. In this talk, I will present brand new data on how learning new meanings for familiar words affects the processing of their old meanings. In the experiment, adult participants learnt new, fictitious meanings for previously unambiguous words (e.g., “sip” denoting a small amount of hacked computer data) over the course of four days. The effects of meaning acquisition were tested by comparing pre- and post-training performance on a semantic relatedness decision task in which the word instantiated the old but not the new meaning (e.g., “sip-liquid”). In short, the experiment showed that adults are remarkably good at learning new meanings, but the consolidation of such information comes at a price. I will discuss these findings in relation to the existing literature on semantic ambiguity processing. 


I am a PhD student in the Language and Memory Lab at the University of Leeds, UK. My research aims to uncover the nature of mental representations and processes that underlie successful language comprehension. I am specifically interested in how the language system deals with words with multiple interpretations (e.g., “river/money bank”) and how both adults and children figure out and learn new word meanings (e.g., “drone” denoting an aircraft). I am currently in Singapore on a short lab visit to the Psycholinguistics Lab.

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