Expanding horizons of cross-linguistic research on reading: The Multilingual Eye-movement Corpus (MECO)
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Scientific studies of language behavior need to grapple with a large diversity of languages in the world and, for reading, a further variability in writing systems. Yet, the ability to form meaningful theories of reading is contingent on the availability of cross-linguistic behavioral data. This paper offers new insights into aspects of reading behavior that are shared and those that vary systematically across languages through an investigation of eye-tracking data from 13 languages recorded during text reading. We begin with reporting a bibliometric analysis of eye-tracking studies showing that the current empirical base is insufficient for cross-linguistic comparisons. We respond to this empirical lacuna by presenting the Multilingual Eye-Movement Corpus (MECO), the product of an international multi-lab collaboration. We examine which behavioral indices differentiate between reading in written languages, and which measures are stable across languages. One of the findings is that readers of different languages vary considerably in their skipping rate (i.e., the likelihood of not fixating on a word even once) and that this variability is explained by cross-linguistic differences in word length distributions. In contrast, if readers do not skip a word, they tend to spend a similar average time viewing it. We outline the implications of these findings for theories of reading. We also describe prospective uses of the publicly available MECO data, and its further development plans.
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