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Retrieving semantic and syntactic word properties: ERP studies on the time course in language comprehension

Müller, O. (2006). Retrieving semantic and syntactic word properties: ERP studies on the time course in language comprehension. PhD Thesis, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen.
The present doctoral thesis investigates the temporal characteristics of the retrieval of semantic and syntactic word properties in language comprehension. In particular, an attempt is made to assess the retrieval order of semantic category and grammatical gender information, using the lateralized readiness potential and the inhibition-related N2 effect. Chapter 1 contains a general introduction. Chapter 2 reports an experiment that employs the two-choice go/nogo task in combination with EEG recordings to establish the retrieval order of semantic category and grammatical gender for written words presented in isolation. The results point to a time course where semantic information becomes available before syntactic information. Chapter 3 focuses on the retrieval of grammatical gender. In order to examine whether gender retrieval can be speeded up by context, nouns are presented in gender congruent and gender incongruent prime-target pairs and reaction times for gender decisions are measured. For stimulus onset asynchronies of 100 ms and 0 ms, gender congruent pairs show faster responses than incongruent ones, whereas there is no effect of gender congruity for a stimulus onset asynchrony of 300 ms. A simulation with a localist computational model that implements competition between gender representations (WEAVER; Roelofs, 1992) is able to capture these findings. In chapter 4, the gender congruency manipulation is transferred to another ERP experiment with the two-choice go/nogo task. As the time course of gender retrieval is altered through primes, the order relative to semantic category retrieval is assessed again. The results indicate that with gender congruent primes, grammatical gender becomes available before semantic category. Such a reversal of retrieval order, as compared to chapter 2, implies a parallel rather than a serial discrete arrangement of the retrieval processes, since the latter variant precludes changes in retrieval order. Finally, chapter 5 offers a summary and general discussion of the main findings.

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