Poster Session E, Monday, March 25, 2:30 – 4:30 pm, Pacific Concourse
Tracking grammatical dependencies through interference
Albert Kim1, Shannon McKnight1; 1University of Colorado, Boulder
We used event related potentials (ERPs) to investigate the ability of language comprehenders to represent grammatical dependencies, which link chunks of meaning in a sentence. 196 participants read sentences like 1-4, which contain a dependency between the subject noun “key” and the main verb “was/were”. This dependency faces potential interference from an intervening second noun, “cabinet(s)”, which may erroneously be linked to the verb. The key to the cabinet was in the drawer. Control No Attractor The key to the cabinet were in the drawer. Anomaly No Attractor The key to the cabinets was in the drawer. Control Attractor The key to the cabinets were in the drawer. Anomaly Attractor Across all subjects, sentences like 2 elicited a left anterior negativity (LAN) followed by a P600 ERP effect at the verb (“was” or “were”), relative to 1, indicating representation of the subject-verb dependency. Sentences like 4 elicited a smaller LAN+P600 response, relative to 1 or 3, indicating that the subject-verb dependency faced interference from the “agreement attractor” noun “cabinets” (replicating a previous finding by a different group). Sentence type 3 elicited a P600 effect relative to 1, indicating that participants erroneously pursued a dependency between the attractor noun and the verb (cabinets was), which is perceived as violating agreement constraints. Finally, participants spanned a continuum between people expressing LAN and P600 dominated effects. These LAN and P600 effects correlated with executive function ability, suggesting a relationship between executive function and the ability to track gramatical dependencies.
Topic Area: LANGUAGE: Syntax