The neurocognitive relationship between sound and meaning

Electronic versions


  • Ciara Egan

    Research areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience, Event-related Potentials, Pupillometry, Psycholinguistics, Alliteration, Neurocognitive Poetics, School of Psychology, PhgD


In linguistics, the relationship between word form and meaning is largely considered arbitrary. However, in literary works and in the broader discipline of literary theory, it is well acknowledged that word form is stylistically manipulated to link concepts and engage reader attention. Recent work in the field of neurocognitive poetics investigates how stylistic text influences semantic and attentional processes, but currently no research effort has focused on these effects in natural, declarative language. The empirical work presented in this thesis examines how phonological repetition in short phrases impacts upon semantic processing and attentional engagement, addressed in three main research questions: 1) How does phonological repetition between words affect semantic processing and attentional engagement? 2) How does phonological repetition between words affect semantic processing and attentional engagement in poor readers? 3) How does the relationship between sound and meaning affect memory? To this end, I constructed adjective-noun phrases, which were orthogonally manipulated for semantic congruency (congruent, incongruent), and alliteration (alliterating, non-alliterating), as in “dazzling-diamond”; “sparkling-diamond”; “dangerous-diamond”; and “creepy-diamond”. Over four experiments I establish that: 1) phonological repetition in the form of alliteration creates an illusion of meaning for typical readers, linking words beyond the level of actual semantic relatedness, 2) phonological repetition does not similarly impact readers with dyslexia at the neurocognitive level, though alliteration impacts their overt semantic relatedness judgements, and 3) the presence of alliteration does not improve recognition memory for word-pairs, but it does create a false sense of familiarity. Our findings show that, even in natural language, word form influences both online semantic integration and overt judgement and later memory processes.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date30 Mar 2020

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