How robust are exemplar effects in word comprehension?

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This paper studies the robustness of exemplar effects in word comprehension by means of four long-term priming experiments with lexical decision tasks in Dutch. A prime and target represented the same word type and were presented with the same or different degree of reduction. In Experiment 1, participants heard only a small number of trials, a large proportion of repeated words, and stimuli produced by only one speaker. They recognized targets more quickly if these represented the same degree of reduction as their primes, which forms additional evidence for the exemplar effects reported in the literature. Similar effects were found for two speakers who differ in their pronunciations. In Experiment 2, with a smaller proportion of repeated words and more trials between prime and target, participants recognized targets preceded by primes with the same or a different degree of reduction equally quickly. Also, in Experiments 3 and 4, in which listeners were not exposed to one but two types of pronunciation variation (reduction degree and speaker voice), no exemplar effects arose. We conclude that the role of exemplars in speech comprehension during natural conversations, which typically involve several speakers and few repeated content words, may be smaller than previously assumed.


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