Context Facilitates Decoding of Lexically Ambiguous Words for Adults with Low Literacy



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In this study, reading behavior and eye movement data were collected from adults with low literacy while they read sentences with varying levels of lexical ambiguity, context strength, and context location. The role of vocabulary breadth, depth, and working memory capacity in processing of biased lexically ambiguous words was also examined. Consistent with previous hypotheses, adult learners spent more total reading time on ambiguous than control words. Additionally, readers spent less time reading target words when contextual regions were more supportive than when they were impoverished, suggesting readers could retrieve the meaning for the target words when the disambiguating region provided richer cues. Vocabulary breadth and depth were not significantly correlated with processing of lexically ambiguous words; however, working memory capacity was significantly correlated. When more informative context preceded target words, readers with higher working memory capacity spent less time reading ambiguous words suggesting their ability to access and maintain multiple interpretations of the biased ambiguous target words compared to readers with lower working memory. Overall, there was evidence to demonstrate the benefits of context use in processing and a reader’s sensitivity to changes in lexical ambiguity.



lexical ambiguity, word processing, low literacy, context use, biased ambiguous words