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Information structure lecture series 2008 -

Abstract Lamers

In this talk I will present a line of reading studies that examines the involvement of syntactic and semantic/conceptual processes in the comprehension of pronouns in Dutch and German using the technique of event-related brain potentials (ERPs).

Dutch and German are closely related and share the same logic in referring to non-diminutive and diminutive NPs (i.e. adding an affix which changes the syntactic gender into neutral). Both languages separate male (hij/er (he)) and female pronouns (zij/sie (she)), as well as a pronoun that refers to an entity of neutral gender, (het/es (it)). This rich syntactic gender system offers a means to dissociate between biological  (MALE/FEMALE) and syntactic (masculine/feminine/neuter) gender. Moreover, in combination with a local structural constraint (i.e. case assignment of a pronoun under preposition governing), one can manipulate biological and syntactic gender features separately from case marking features.

I will present two pairs of studies in which gender agreement between the pronoun and its antecedent was manipulated. Each pair consisted of a German and a Dutch study. The aim of the first pair was to investigate the interplay of semantic and syntactic information in pronoun resolution. The second pair of studies addressed the influence of gender information in combination with a local structural case constraint. 

In addition to an overall pattern of salient P600 effects for conditions with a gender violation and/or  a case violation, different neurophysiological patterns were found for German and Dutch stimuli. This indicates that the processing of pronouns in these two languages differs. I will argue that these differences can be explained in terms of language specific characteristics.

Last checked 2010-10-05 by Christine Dimroth

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