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Poster E32, Friday, November 10, 10:00 – 11:15 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Examining individual differences in the processing of referential dependencies in Spanish: an ERP investigation

Nick Feroce1, Lauren Covey, Robert Fiorentino, Alison Gabriele;1University of Kansas

Recent studies have shown variability in the processing of pronominal reference in both ambiguous contexts (Two potential referents: David shot at John as he...vs. One potential referent: David shot at Linda as he...) and in contexts of ‘referential failure’ in which there is no gender-matching antecedent (The boy thought that she…) (Osterhout and Mobley, 1995; Nieuwland and Van Berkum, 2006; Van Berkum and Nieuwland, 2008; Nieuwland, 2014). These contexts have been shown to give rise to a sustained, frontal negative shift (Nref) or a P600 (or both components) depending on both the task and individual differences in working memory (Nieuwland, 2014). For cases of ‘referential failure,’ it has been proposed that the presence of an explicit acceptability judgment task may give rise to P600s, suggesting attempts at co-reference despite the mismatch in the gender of the pronouns (Osterhout and Mobley, 1995; Nieuwland, 2014). In both ambiguous contexts and contexts of referential failure, it has been suggested that individuals with high working memory are more likely to yield Nref, a component that indexes the inability to assign a unique referent, as opposed to P600 (Nieuwland and Van Berkum, 2006; Nieuwland, 2014). The present study further examines individual differences in the processing of referential dependencies, examining a null-subject language (Spanish) for the first time. Experiment 1 targeted ambiguous overt pronouns (One/Two referent: Álvaro/Miriam aceptó a Natalia porque ella estaba en una situación similar. ‘Álvaro/Miriam accepted Natalia because she was in a similar situation.’). An offline norming study which was completed by n=187 Spanish speakers confirmed that the sentences with two potential referents were consistently interpreted as ambiguous. Experiment 2 targeted referential failure (One/No Referent: Catalina/Pablo conoció a Rodrigo porque ella estaba en la clase de matemáticas. ‘Catalina/Pablo met Rodrigo because she was in math class.’) N=40 native Spanish-speaking participants completed the ERP study as well as tests of working memory (counting span/reading span). In the ERP study, participants read 240 sentences (160 targets, 80 fillers) and were asked to respond to fill-in-the-blank recall questions on one third of the trials. Results of Experiment 1 for all participants showed no significant effect of ambiguity. However, correlational analyses revealed that those with higher working memory (as indexed by reading span) showed greater negativities in the 500-1400ms Nref time window, suggesting in line with previous research that sensitivity to referential ambiguity may be increased in individuals with high working memory. Results of Experiment 2 showed a significant positivity in the posterior region between 600-900ms, consistent with the P600, suggesting that participants may attempt co-reference even in the absence of an explicit acceptability judgment task. The P600 effect size for referential failure was not correlated with working memory, in line with Nieuwland and Van Berkum (2006). The study suggests that the processing of referential ambiguity and referential failure is similar cross-linguistically and is modulated by similar individual differences.

Topic Area: Meaning: Discourse and Pragmatics

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