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Poster C45, Thursday, November 9, 10:00 – 11:15 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Linguistic cues modulate, but don't eliminate, the influence of event knowledge: Evidence from the N400

Elisabeth Rabs1, Heiner Drenhaus1, Francesca Delogu1, Matthew Crocker1;1Saarland University

Previous ERP research has extensively studied the influence of linguistic context on language processing, demonstrating that the semantic expectedness of a word is negatively correlated with N400 amplitude (Kutas & Hillyard, 1984). Such findings have traditionally been interpreted as indexing compositional semantic integration, but can often be explained by simple lexical/semantic priming. Less is known, however, about use of script/event knowledge (Rumelhart, 1980) - a person's knowledge about structured event sequences - which has also been shown to modulate N400 amplitude (Metusalem et al., 2012). In two ERP studies on German we examine whether N400 modulation by a mentioned script event is due to priming alone, or is further sensitive to linguistic cues which would be expected to modulate script influence. In Experiment 1, participants (n=32, mean age=29) were presented with a 2x2 design, containing a context introducing either one script ("Roberta went to the pharmacy."), or two scripts, one of them marked as inactive by an “instead-of”-construction ("Instead of going to the post office, Roberta went to the pharmacy."). An introduction sentence ("Roberta's cold had gotten worse.") also served to reinforce the active script. The direct object of the word-by-word (SOA=400+100ms) presented target sentence was related to either the active or inactive/unmentioned script ("She stepped up and handed over the prescription/package with a smile."). Materials were normed in a plausibility judgement task. Fitted linear mixed models (300-500ms time window after target object onset) reveal a significant (t>|2|) main effect for active script fit, shown in a broadly distributed N400 for inactive script target vs. active script target, as well as an interaction with context size: Specifically, the N400 for the inactive target is attenuated in the 2-script condition. Our findings suggest that priming accounts cannot fully account for the N400 difference between active and inactive script targets in a 2-script context. Equally, however, the N400 difference between the two inactive script matching conditions demonstrates that linguistic cues like "instead of" cannot fully suppress the influence of the mentioned but inactive script. We take this partial modulation of the N400 provides further evidence for an interaction between event knowledge and linguistic cues (Metusalem et al., 2012). Importantly, however, an alternative explanation for the reduced influence of the inactive script appeals to the distance between script and target object (active script always mentioned last, hence closer to target compared to inactive script), meaning priming accounts cannot be fully ruled out. To address this, Experiment 2 replicates the Experiment 1 with one change: The order of scripts in the context sentence is reversed ("...she went to the pharmacy instead of going to the post office"). Preliminary analyses suggest a replication of findings from Experiment 1, hence further supporting linguistic script activation accounts over priming alone.

Topic Area: Meaning: Discourse and Pragmatics

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