Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Professor Ian M. Begg


Homographs can be considered local semantic uncertainties in utterances. As such, a study of how their meanings are resolved can be used to infer the dynamics of retrieval from memory. One view is that resolutions always begins with an exhaustive retrieval of the entire set of meanings, followed by a selection of one, either on the basis of the context, or the amount of experience with a meaning (meaning dominance). In support of this two-stage view, two experiments demonstrated that a homographic primer speeds responses to both subordinate and dominant associates if its presentation time is short, but speeds responses only to a dominant associate if its presentation time is long. Two further experiments also found evidence for exhaustive retrieval by showing that a subordinate associate will selectively interfere with pronunciation of a homograph if it is presented in close temporal proximity. However, whether exhaustive retrieval is the rule for the processing of homographs depends on how immune the initial retrieval is to manipulations of context. Four subsequent experiments demonstrated that if subjects study the actual homographs before employing them as primers, there are conditions in which the critical effects that support exhaustive retrieval are eliminated. Furthermore, across a number of experiments, measures of episodic memory showed a small but replicable selective effects in conditions presumed to reflect only non-selective operations.

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