Perceptual features predict word frequency asymmetry across modalities

  • Sin Hang LauEmail author
  • Yaqian Huang
  • Victor S. Ferreira
  • Edward Vul
Perceptual/Cognitive Constraints on the Structure of Speech Communication: In Honor of Randy Diehl


The relationships between word frequency and various perceptual features have been used to study the cognitive processes involved in word production and recognition, as well as patterns in language use over time. However, little work has been done comparing spoken and written frequencies against each other, which leaves open the question of whether there are modality-specific relationships between perceptual features and frequency. Words have different frequencies in speech and written texts, with some words occurring disproportionately more often in one modality than the other. In the present study, we investigated whether perceptual features predict this frequency asymmetry across modalities. Our results suggest that perceptual features such as length, neighborhood density, and positional probability differentially affect speech and writing, which reveals different online processing constraints and considerations for communicative efficiency across the two modalities. These modality-specific effects exist above and beyond formality differences. This work provides arguments against theories that assume that words differing in frequency are perceptually equivalent, as well as models that predict little to no influence of perceptual features on top-down processes of word selection.


Perceptual features Word frequency Language production Rational model 



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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sin Hang Lau
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yaqian Huang
    • 2
  • Victor S. Ferreira
    • 1
  • Edward Vul
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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