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Keywords:

  • Psycholinguistics;
  • Spoken word recognition;
  • Eye tracking

The sounds that make up spoken words are heard in a series and must be mapped rapidly onto words in memory because their elements, unlike those of visual words, cannot simultaneously exist or persist in time. Although theories agree that the dynamics of spoken word recognition are important, they differ in how they treat the nature of the competitor set—precisely which words are activated as an auditory word form unfolds in real time. This study used eye tracking to measure the impact over time of word frequency and 2 partially overlapping competitor set definitions: onset density and neighborhood density. Time course measures revealed early and continuous effects of frequency (facilitatory) and on set based similarity (inhibitory). Neighborhood density appears to have early facilitatory effects and late inhibitory effects. The late inhibitory effects are due to differences in the temporal distribution of similarity within neighborhoods. The early facilitatory effects are due to subphonemic cues that inform the listener about word length before the entire word is heard. The results support a new conception of lexical competition neighborhoods in which recognition occurs against a background of activated competitors that changes over time based on fine-grained goodness-of-fit and competition dynamics.