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Poster A40, Tuesday, August 20, 2019, 10:15 am – 12:00 pm, Restaurant Hall

Eliciting ERP components for morphosyntactic agreement mismatches in grammatical sentences

Émilie Courteau1,3, Lisa Martignetti1,2, Phaedra Royle1,3, Karsten Steinhauer2,3;1School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Montreal, 2School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, 3Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music (CRBLM)

French subject-verb agreement has specific properties relevant to the study of agreement processing, which have not been systematically studied in the ERP literature. Furthermore, there is increasing interest in ERP methods that do not rely on violation paradigms. Therefore, we examined whether the auditory presentation of a grammatical sentence in French combined with a picture that doesn’t match its morphosyntactic features would elicit the same ERP components as in classic error-based paradigms. We created various cross-modal number (singular/plural) mismatches to elicit LAN-P600 for agreement mismatches (Molinaro et al, 2011; Royle et al, 2013) and semantic verb/action (rather than noun/object) mismatches to elicit N400s (Royle et al., 2013; Willems et al, 2008). Twenty-eight French-speaking adults listened to sentences describing scenes depicted while their EEG was recorded. We varied the type and amount of number cues available in each sentence using two manipulations. First, we manipulated the verb type, using either verbs whose number cue was audible through subject (clitic) pronoun liaison (LIAISon verbs: e.g., elle/s aime/nt [ɛlɛm]/[ɛlzɛm] ‘she/they love’), or verbs whose number cue was audible on the verb ending (CONSonant-final verbs, e.g., il/s rugi-t/-ssent [ilʁyʒi]/[ilʁyʒɪs] ‘he/they roars/roar’). Second, we manipulated the sentence-initial context: each sentence was preceded either by a neutral context (e.g., In the evening) providing no number cue, or by a subject noun phrase (NP, e.g., Les lions [lelijɔ̃] ‘The lions’) containing a subject number cue on the determiner. Number mismatches were created through mismatches between the number of visually-presented agents and morphosyntactic number cues in the auditory stimuli. Accuracy for acceptability judgments was nearly at ceiling throughout our conditions (86.5% to 97.6%). As expected, the semantic action/verb mismatch elicited classic N400s followed by additional negativities. Number mismatches in sentence-initial contexts elicited broadly distributed N400s followed by a P600, suggesting that non-linguistic visual information can be immediately used (in less than 500 ms) to make strong predictions about appropriate linguistic representations. For number mismatches disambiguated on LIAIS verbs, we observed an early-onset sustained anterior negativity (eAN), followed by a centro-parietal N400 and a P600, indicating that eANs are not specific to phrase structure violations (Hasting & Kotz, 2008; contra Friederici, 2002, 2011). CONS verbs elicited an eAN which faded due to an overlapping P600 and reappeared after the P600, a pattern previously described for various syntactic violations in auditory ERP studies (Steinhauer & Drury, 2012). Thus, eAN and P600 temporarily cancelled each other out. The fact that the frontal negativity lasted beyond the P600 duration (as in previous auditory agreement studies, e.g., Hasting & Kotz, 2008) suggests that the P600 does not always reflect the final stage of sentence evaluation processes. The present study demonstrates for the first time that perfectly grammatical sentences can elicit classic ERP components usually found in morpho-syntactic violation paradigms. We discuss how distinct psycholinguistic processes modulated the ERPs as a function of (1) number (singular vs plural mismatch) and (2) type of mismatch disambiguation (determiner, LIAIS and CONS verb). Possible applications of this new cross-modal paradigm in developmental research will also be addressed.

Themes: Morphology, Meaning: Lexical Semantics
Method: Electrophysiology (MEG/EEG/ECOG)