Poster E40, Saturday, August 18, 3:00 – 4:45 pm, Room 2000AB

Effect of functional style incongruency on language comprehension: an ERP study in Russian

Anna Yurchenko1, Mira Bergelson1, Olga Dragoy1;1National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russian Federation

Introduction: Electrophysiological studies across languages have previously shown that processing words that violate the semantic context of a sentence elicits an N400 effect (a negative deflection peaking around 400 ms poststimulus) compared to semantically congruent counterparts (Friederici et al., 1993; Kutas & Hillyard, 1980; Wicha et al., 2004, etc.). In addition, the amplitude of N400 can be modulated by an (in)congruency between the target word and its wider discourse context (Van Berkum et al., 2003), real-world situation (Hagoort et al., 2004), a speaker's voice (Van Berkum et al., 2008), etc. However, little is known about the effects of the functional style on online language processing. In this study, we explored neurophysiological effects of a mismatch between the target word and the functional style of the preceding context (Experiment 1) compared to effects of semantic violations (Experiment 2), using the methods of event-related potentials (ERPs). Methods: The participants in Experiment 1 were 24 healthy right-handed adults aged 18–28 years (mean = 22 years; 15 females). The materials included 40 pairs of sentences in standard Russian (a) and 40 pairs of corresponding sentences in Russian slang (b). Each pair differed in a single word that either matched or violated the functional style of the context. a. During a joyful preference game the clerks/*dudes were composing fables about the employees. b. Getting high on the pontoon the dudes/*clerks were telling stories about the mollies. Twenty four healthy right-handed individuals aged 18–42 years (mean = 23 years; 23 females) participated in Experiment 2. The stimuli were designed similarly to those in Experiment 1, with the pairs of sentences differing in a single word – consistent or violating the semantic context (c–d). c. The child washed the scoop/*curve in the sea. d. The racer passed the curve/*scoop very fast. In both experiments, participants were asked to listen attentively to the sentences and to perform an unrelated task, judging the presence/absence of a word in the preceding sentence after 25% of stimuli. The EEG was recorded using 128 high-impedance ActiCap active electrodes (Brain Products Gmbh, Germany) mounted on an elastic cap. The differences between the experimental conditions were analyzed using repeated measures ANOVAs. Results: The statistical analysis revealed similar patterns for processing words that violated the functional style and the semantic content of a sentence – both kinds of violation elicited a negative deflection in the 300–500 and 500–800 ms time windows with a maximum over central, centro-parietal and parietal electrodes (all p-values < 0.05), compared to the congruent condition. Discussion: Functional style violations affect the course of online processing similarly to mismatches between a word and its semantic context. Processing sentences containing words that were not consistent with the functional style of the previous sentence was characterized by the N400 effect, which was compatible to the time course and scalp distribution of the ‘semantic’ N400. These results suggest similar neurophysiological mechanisms underlying processing semantic and functional style incongruencies.

Topic Area: Meaning: Discourse and Pragmatics