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Poster D35, Thursday, November 9, 6:15 – 7:30 pm, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Effects of Aging on Semantic-Syntactic Integration in Chinese Classifier-noun Agreement

Chia-Ju Chou1, Chih-Ting Chang1, Jie-Li Tsai2, Chia-Ying Lee1,3;1National Yang-Ming University, 2National Cheng-Chi University, 3Academia Sinica

Language comprehension involves various processes operating in parallel. Although most language comprehension abilities remain relatively stable in old age, age-related cognitive declines may change the pattern of language process. Semantic and syntax are core components for language comprehension. According to the constraint-satisfaction model which claims that both syntactic and semantic processes work together to determine the meaning of a sentence. This Event-Related potential (ERP) study examines whether aging affects these two key processes by investigating how the semantic constraint of classifiers modulates the semantic and syntactic violation in normal aging. In this study, semantic constraint strength of classifiers (strongly and weakly) and three types of completions (expected noun, implausible noun, implausible verb) were manipulated. 18 young adult subjects, ranging from age 20–30 years (mean = 24; 9 males), and 22 older adult subjects between the ages of 56–78 years (mean = 65.0; 7 males) participated. Cognitive performance was assessed in elders using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE, mean = 28.35, SD = 1.5). Participants were asked to read a classifier which followed by a pairing completion on the center of the screen for the acceptability judgment task. ERPs elicited by the completions showed that, for young adults, implausible noun and implausible verb elicited significant larger N400s than expected noun did, under both the strongly and weakly constrained condition. Importantly, the syntactic violation effect on the P600 was only found under the strongly constrained condition. It suggests that the syntactic appropriateness would only be evaluated when the context is semantically and syntactically highly predictive. The semantic influence on syntactic processes supports the constraint-satisfaction model. Data from older adults revealed the semantic and syntactic violation effects on N400, although the effects were reduced and delayed when compared with those in young adults. In addition, the semantic and syntactic violation effects on N400 was larger and broadly distributed under the strongly constrained condition than those under the weakly constrained condition. Critically, no syntactic violation could be found in elder’s data, even under the strongly constrained condition. It suggests that elders tend to allocate most of the cognitive efforts in resources for resolving the semantic plausibility for reading comprehension. Moreover, the implausible verb elicited a frontal distributed P600 under the weakly constrained condition, suggesting that elders may utilize a compensatory neural system for the syntactic-semantic integration.

Topic Area: Meaning: Combinatorial Semantics

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