, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 344-360

Measuring local context as context–word probabilities


Context enables readers to quickly recognize a related word but disturbs recognition of unrelated words. The relatedness of a final word to a sentence context has been estimated as the probability (cloze probability) that a participant will complete a sentence with a word. In four studies, I show that it is possible to estimate local context–word relatedness based on common language usage. Conditional probabilities were calculated for sentences with published cloze probabilities. Four-word contexts produced conditional probabilities significantly correlated with cloze probabilities, but usage statistics were unavailable for some sentence contexts. The present studies demonstrate that a composite context measure based on conditional probabilities for one- to four-word contexts and the presence of a final period represents all of the sentences and maintains significant correlations (.25, .52, .53) with cloze probabilities. Finally, the article provides evidence for the effectiveness of this measure by showing that local context varies in ways that are similar to the N400 effect and that are consistent with a role for local context in reading. The Supplemental materials include local context measures for three cloze probability data sets.