Children's use of language context in lexical ambiguity resolution

Maya M. Khanna, Julie E. Boland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Lexical ambiguity resolution was examined in children aged 7 to 10 years and adults. In Experiment 1, participants heard sentences supporting one (or neither) meaning of a balanced ambiguous word in a cross-modal naming paradigm. Naming latencies for context-congruent versus context-incongruent targets and judgements of the relatedness of targets to the sentence served as indices of appropriate context use. While younger children were faster to respond to related targets regardless of the sentence context, older children and adults showed priming only for context-appropriate targets. In Experiment 2, only a single-word context preceded the homophone, and in contrast to Experiment 1, all groups showed contextual sensitivity. Individual working-memory span and inhibition ability were also measured in Experiment 2, and more mature executive function abilities were associated with greater contextual sensitivity. These findings support a developmental model whereby sentential context use for lexical ambiguity resolution increases with age, cognitive processing capacity, and reading skill.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)160-193
Number of pages34
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Physiology (medical)


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