Dundee Corpus update could help reveal the secrets of reading

The way humans read and understand written text is continuing to be revealed thanks to a ground-breaking piece of research by the University of Dundee.

The Dundee Corpus, the world’s largest study of eye movement, was initially developed in 2003 to study how the human eye acts while reading.

Having become recognised as a foremost resource in psycholinguistics, researchers in Denmark have further broken down the original data, a move that could enhance understanding of how the human eye adapts to what it is reading.

A team at the University of Copenhagen has utilised the Dundee Corpus to look at how syntax – the arrangement of words in sentences – can affect the movement of the eye as it reads passages of text.

Alan Kennedy, Emeritus Professor at Dundee, said that this development of his initial project was significant.

"It’s hugely rewarding to think that research undertaken in Dundee 15 years ago is still leading to important developments today," he said.

"The role that syntax has on the movement of the eye has been debated for some time.

"What the team in Copenhagen has done is carry out a complete analysis of the Dundee Corpus, breaking it down so that we can see the influence that syntax has on the eye in perfectly normal sentences."

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the original Dundee Corpus was developed in 2003 by Professor Kennedy, in collaboration with his French research partner Dr Joel Pynte. Utilising newspaper articles from The Independent and French title Le Monde, ten English-speaking participants read 20 articles while having their eye movements tracked by specialist equipment.

The project helped to verify the belief that visual fatigue associated with older computer displays was real, proving that technology used to refresh the screen interfered with eye movement control.

However, with more than a million data points the Dundee Corpus continues to be utilised in labs throughout the world and is regarded as a landmark study in the world of psycholinguists. While additions have been made in subsequent years, Professor Kennedy hailed the impact that this Danish research, named the Dundee Treebank, will have in years to come.

He added: “The recording of eye movement during reading is one of the main methods we can use to record human cognition.

"Having this complete syntactic breakdown of the original Dundee Corpus will allow for more sophisticated psycholinguistic studies in the future."