Friends and Foes in the Lexicon: Homophone Naming in Aphasia

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The study of homophones—words with different meanings that sound the same—has great potential to inform models of language production. Of particular relevance is a phenomenon termed frequency inheritance, where a low-frequency word (e.g., deer) is produced more fluently than would be expected based on its frequency characteristics, presumably because of shared phonology with a high-frequency homophone counterpart (e.g., dear). However, prior studies have been inconsistent in showing frequency inheritance. To explain this inconsistency, we propose a dual nature account of homophony: a high-frequency counterpart exerts 2 counterposing effects on a low-frequency homophone target during the 2 main stages of naming: (a) a detrimental impact during semantically driven lexical retrieval; (b) a beneficial impact during phonological retrieval. In a study of naming in participants with chronic aphasia followed by computational investigations, we find strong evidence for the dual nature account of homophony.

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