Mrs. Malaprop's neighborhood: Using word errors to reveal neighborhood structure

Matthew Goldrick, Jocelyn R. Folk, Brenda Rapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Many theories of language production and perception assume that in the normal course of processing a word, additional non-target words (lexical neighbors) become active. The properties of these neighbors can provide insight into the structure of representations and processing mechanisms in the language processing system. To infer the properties of neighbors, we examined the non-semantic errors produced in both spoken and written word production by four individuals who suffered neurological injury. Using converging evidence from multiple language tasks, we first demonstrate that the errors originate in disruption to the processes involved in the retrieval of word form representations from long-term memory. The targets and errors produced were then examined for their similarity along a number of dimensions. A novel statistical-simulation procedure was developed to determine the significance of the observed similarities between targets and errors relative to multiple chance baselines. The results reveal that in addition to position-specific form overlap (the only consistent claim of traditional definitions of neighborhood structure) the dimensions of lexical frequency, grammatical category, target length and initial segment independently contribute to the activation of non-target words in both spoken and written production. Additional analyses confirm the relevance of these dimensions for word production showing that, in both written and spoken modalities, the retrieval of a target word is facilitated by increasing neighborhood density, as defined by the results of the target-error analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-134
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • Aphasia
  • Language production
  • Lexical neighborhood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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