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The Modal Model of Comprehension

In examining visual scene analysis, we saw that the meaning of one line segment or vertex "propagates" to other related segments and vertexes. The same is true in language. To figure out the meaning of a word, you use the influence of neighboring words. Just like with visual scene analysis, the process of using constraint-propagation to arrive at the correct interpretation normally goes on quickly, guided by parallel processes outside of consciousness.

What is the "modal model" of language comprehension? How does it resemble visual scene analysis

Rumelhart (1976) noted that researchers of the mid-1970s had converged on an agreed-upon or "modal" model of comprehension. He described the modal model as involving two steps: (1) Words activate schemata in the brain. (2) When the listener or reader finds a combination of schemata that account for all the words, comprehension is achieved. This is much like the process of visual scene analysis described earlier. To comprehend a passage, the listener must find one large-scale interpretation that makes sense out of all the parts of a passage.

When discussing visual imagery, we talked of internal representation, a mental representation of the environment. To explain language comprehension, we must also assume there is some kind of internal representation to capture the meaning of language. Bower and Morrow (1990) described language comprehension as constructing mental models of the situation a writer or speaker is describing.


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