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The processing of number and gender agreement in Spanish: an event related potential investigation of the effects of structural distance

Aleman Banon, J. A., Fiorentino, R. and Gabriele, A. (2012) The processing of number and gender agreement in Spanish: an event related potential investigation of the effects of structural distance. Brain Research, 1456. pp. 49-63. ISSN 0006-8993

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.03.057


Previous research suggests that the processing of agreement is affected by the distance between the agreeing elements. However, the unique contribution of structural distance (number of intervening syntactic phrases) to the processing of agreement remains an open question, since previous investigations do not tease apart structural and linear distance (number of intervening words). We used event related potentials (ERPs) to examine the extent to which structural distance impacts the processing of Spanish number and gender agreement. Violations were realized both within the phrase and across the phrase. Across both levels of structural distance, linear distance was kept constant, as was the syntactic category of the agreeing elements. Number and gender agreement violations elicited a robust P600 between 400 and 900ms, a component associated with morphosyntactic processing. No amplitude differences were observed between number and gender violations, suggesting that the two features are processed similarly at the brain level. Within-phrase agreement yielded more positive waveforms than across-phrase agreement, both for agreement violations and for grammatical sentences (no agreement by distance interaction). These effects can be interpreted as evidence that structural distance impacts the establishment of agreement overall, consistent with sentence processing models which predict that hierarchical structure impacts the processing of syntactic dependencies. However, due to the lack of an agreement by distance interaction, the possibility cannot be ruled out that these effects are driven by differences in syntactic predictability between the within-phrase and across-phrase configurations, notably the fact that the syntactic category of the critical word was more predictable in the within-phrase conditions.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Clinical Language Sciences
ID Code:35199

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