Abstract

Usage-based theories assume that all aspects of language processing are shaped by the distributional properties of the language. The frequency not only of words but also of larger chunks plays a major role in language processing. These theories predict that the frequency of phrases influences the time needed to prepare these phrases for production and their acoustic duration. By contrast, dominant psycholinguistic models of utterance production predict no such effects. In these models, the system keeps track of the frequency of individual words but not of co-occurrences. This study investigates the extent to which the frequency of phrases impacts naming latencies and acoustic duration with a balanced design, where the same words are recombined to build high- and low-frequency phrases. The brain signal of participants is recorded so as to obtain information on the electrophysiological bases and functional locus of frequency effects. Forty-seven participants named pictures using high- and low-frequency adjective–noun phrases. Naming latencies were shorter for high-frequency than low-frequency phrases. There was no evidence that phrase frequency impacted acoustic duration. The electrophysiological signal differed between high- and low-frequency phrases in time windows that do not overlap with conceptualization or articulation processes. These findings suggest that phrase frequency influences the preparation of phrases for production, irrespective of the lexical properties of the constituents, and that this effect originates at least partly when speakers access and encode linguistic representations. Moreover, this study provides information on how the brain signal recorded during the preparation of utterances changes with the frequency of word combinations.

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