Author(s): Malaia E, Wilbur RB, WeberFox C
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Abstract Verbs contain multifaceted information about both the semantics of an action, and potential argument structures. Linguistic theory classifies verbs according to whether the denoted action has an inherent (telic) end-point (fall, awaken), or whether it is considered homogenous, or atelic (read, worship). The aim of our study was to examine how this distinction influences on-line sentence processing, investigating the effects of verbal telicity on the ease of syntactic re-analysis of Object reduced relative clauses. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded from 22 English speakers as they read sentences in which the main verb was either telic or atelic, e.g., "The actress awakened/worshipped by the writer left in a hurry". ERPs elicited by telic and atelic verbs, the preposition "by" introducing the second argument (Agent), and the second argument itself, e.g., "writer", were compared. Additionally, participants were grouped according to receptive syntactic proficiency: normal (NP) or high (HP). ERPs from the NP group first diverged at the second argument, with the atelic condition eliciting larger amplitude negativity at the N100, and continuing to the P200 interval. In contrast, ERPs from the HP group first diverged earlier in the sentence, on the word "by". ERPs elicited by "by" in the atelic condition were also characterized by increased negativity, in this case significant at P200 and Anterior Negativity between 320 and 500ms post stimulus onset. Our results support the postulated conceptual/semantic distinction underlying the two verb categories, and demonstrate that world-knowledge about actions designated by verbs and syntactic proficiency are reflected in on-line processing of sentence structure.
This article was published in Brain Lang
and referenced in International Journal of School and Cognitive Psychology