Does the mental lexicon exist?

Lucilene Bender de Sousa, Rosangela Gabriel


Abstract: One of the central and mostintriguing components of language processing to researchers is the mentallexicon. The term was used for the first time by Ann Triesman in 1961 and westill do not have clear answers on how it is structured and how muchinformation it contains, or even if there is something to be called a mentallexicon. For some time, mental lexicon has been compared to a mental dictionaryboth storing and organizing word knowledge; however, they are surely differentin structure and quantity/quality of information. Neuroimaging studies havealso tried to bring contributions to these questions. Some researchers believethat there are many lexicons, one for each level of stored information (ULLMAN, 2007): orthographic, phonological, semantic and syntactic lexicons. Another group of researchers (MCCLELLAND; ROGERS, 2003; SEIDENBERG, 1997, etc.) postulates the existence of only onelexicon where all information levels are integrated. Recently, a new audaciousproposal has been done by Elman (2009), the inexistence of a mental lexicon. Inthis paper, we discuss the different views of mental lexicon structure andcontent. We try to proceed on the discussion of Elman’s new proposal andconfront it to data obtained by behavioral, neuroimaging and computationalstudies.

Keywords: Linguistic Knowledge; Mental Lexicon; Network Architecture; Language Processing; Language Description.

Resumo: Um dos componentes mais centrais e intrigantes do processamento da linguagem para os pesquisadores é o léxico mental. O termo foi usado pela primeira vez por Ann Triesman em 1961 e até o momento não temos respostas claras sobre como ele é estruturado e quanta informação contém, ou mesmo se existe algo a ser chamado de léxico mental. Durante algum tempo, o léxico mental foi comparado a um dicionário mental, responsável por armazenar e organizar o conhecimento de palavras; entretanto, certamente há distinções em termos de estrutura e quantidade / qualidade de informação armazenada. Alguns pesquisadores acreditam que existem vários léxicos, um para cada nível de informação (ULLMAN, 2007): léxico ortográfico, fonológico, semântico e sintático. Outro grupo de pesquisadores (MCCLELLAND; ROGERS, 2003; SEIDENBERG, 1997, etc.) defende a existência de apenas um léxico no qual todos os níveis de informação estão integrados. Recentemente, Elman (2009) apresentou uma nova e audaciosa proposta: a inexistência do léxico mental. Neste artigo, discutimos as diferentes perspectivas de estrutura e conteúdo do léxico mental com o propósito de questionar a arquitetura do conhecimento lexical no cérebro em contrapartida ao que pode ser conscientemente concebido como conhecimento lexical do falante. Procuramos dar continuidade à discussão proposta por Elman e confrontá-la com dados obtidos por estudos comportamentais, computacionais e de neuroimagem. Esta revisão teórica explica brevemente a evolução das concepções sobre o léxico mental desde a proposta da analogia ao dicionário até a proposta de sua inexistência.

Palavras-chave: conhecimento linguístico; léxico mental; arquitetura em rede; processamento da linguagem; descrição da linguagem.


Linguistic Knowledge; Mental Lexicon; Network Architecture; Language Processing; Language Description

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