Talk: The more, the merrier. Words with multiple meanings in Spanish
In recent times, the introduction of experimental techniques to study language has revolutionized the field of Linguistics. Psycholinguistics is the discipline that studies the psychological processes that underlie language, by designing and conducting experiments that gather data on how speakers deal with language. Which data can be provided to the study of words and their meanings by experimental tasks?
The theoretical definition of lexical ambiguity, as well as the characterization of its two subtypes (homonymy and polysemy), is quite clear. However, from an empirical perspective there are still some questions without answers: how are different meanings of ambiguous words stored? How do multiple meanings affect on the recognition of lexical units and on how they are understood? How is one of multiple meanings selected? Are all the meanings activated or is the inadequate meaning somehow inhibited?
This experimental study, a part of my on-going thesis, contribute relevant data about the behaviour of ambiguous words in Spanish, by means of three different tasks: lexical decision tasks, self-administrated reading tasks monitored with an eye-tracker and questionnaires. The results of all these experiments robustly point to a differential behaviour of homonym and polysemy. These results seem to be task-dependant, since the effect of polysemy and homonymy may be positive or negative depending on whether there is a context or not. Furthermore, the analysis of the questionnaire places value on the subjective interpretation on ambiguity.