A number of recent theories propose that prediction facilitates efficient language processing. Supporting this idea are findings that listeners can use verb semantics and number markings to predict upcoming referents (Mani & Huettig, 2012; Lukyanenko & Fisher, 2016). However, precisely how prediction occurs during language processing remains uncertain. One prominent theory is prediction via simulation (Pickering & Garrod, 2013): Listeners use language production mechanisms to simulate the speaker’s upcoming production, which is contingent, at least in part, on perspective-taking and on well-developed language production mechanisms.
In the present study, we tested whether prediction occurs via simulation by evaluating whether listeners can use spatial deixis (this, that, these, and those) to predict the plurality and proximity of a speaker’s referent. In two eye-tracking tasks, English L1 adults, English L1 5-year-olds, and English L2 adults viewed scenes that included a speaker and four referents (experiment 1) or two referents (experiment 2). Participants listened to deictic sentences (e.g., Look at that wonderful cookie) and neutral sentences (e.g., Look at the wonderful cookie). Data collection for experiment 2 is ongoing, but preliminary findings suggest that only L1 adults are capable of prediction via simulation.
The present pattern of results suggests that prediction via simulation (Pickering & Garrod, 2013) supports processing for the mature, native speaker, but that extensive experience with cues in a language may be required before listeners can use this route for prediction. This three-group investigation goes beyond the empirical goal of assessing whether prediction occurs and evaluates how prediction occurs – a crucial goal for defining prediction’s role in language processing and learning.
We’re grateful to all participant families, to Claire Robertson for her assistance with stimuli, and to Mia Sullivan to her assistance with data collection and CHILDES coding.