Using eye-tracking to examine the reading of texts containing taboo words

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Experimental pragmatics research on (im)politeness generally employs “off-line” methodologies, meaning that data reflect ratings or understanding of given texts or interactions after they have been processed. “On-line” methods allow for moment-by-moment data collection as input is processed. We discuss advantages of using one on-line method, eye-tracking, in experimental pragmatics research. We also consider experimental design difficulties inherent in creating stimuli. We take as a specific example a recent study of how readers process English taboo words portrayed as being uttered by more or less typical speakers in more or less appropriate situations. We demonstrate early influences of pragmatic information, essentially concurrent with lexical access. The timing of these influences in the ongoing language processing cannot be captured using off-line methods. Further, our on-line data suggest that part of impoliteness judgments may be formed before they reach the threshold of conscious understanding.


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