Monique Flecken


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  • Flecken, M., Walbert, K., & Dijkstra, T. (2015). ‘Right now, Sophie ∗swims in the pool?!’: Brain potentials of grammatical aspect processing. Frontiers in Psychology, 6: 1764. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01764.


    We investigated whether brain potentials of grammatical aspect processing resemble semantic or morpho-syntactic processing, or whether they instead are characterized by an entirely distinct pattern in the same individuals. We studied aspect from the perspective of agreement between the temporal information in the context (temporal adverbials, e.g., Right now) and a morpho-syntactic marker of grammatical aspect (e.g., progressive is swimming). Participants read questions providing a temporal context that was progressive (What is Sophie doing in the pool right now?) or habitual (What does Sophie do in the pool every Monday?). Following a lead-in sentence context such as Right now, Sophie…, we measured event-related brain potentials (ERPs) time-locked to verb phrases in four different conditions, e.g., (a) is swimming (control); (b) ∗is cooking (semantic violation); (c) ∗are swimming (morpho-syntactic violation); or (d)?swims (aspect mismatch); …in the pool.” The collected ERPs show typical N400 and P600 effects for semantics and morpho-syntax, while aspect processing elicited an Early Negativity (250–350 ms). The aspect-related Negativity was short-lived and had a central scalp distribution with an anterior onset. This differentiates it not only from the semantic N400 effect, but also from the typical LAN (Left Anterior Negativity), that is frequently reported for various types of agreement processing. Moreover, aspect processing did not show a clear P600 modulation. We argue that the specific context for each item in this experiment provided a trigger for agreement checking with temporal information encoded on the verb, i.e., morphological aspect marking. The aspect-related Negativity obtained for aspect agreement mismatches reflects a violated expectation concerning verbal inflection (in the example above, the expected verb phrase was Sophie is X-ing rather than Sophie X-s in condition d). The absence of an additional P600 for aspect processing suggests that the mismatch did not require additional reintegration or processing costs. This is consistent with participants’ post hoc grammaticality judgements of the same sentences, which overall show a high acceptability of aspect mismatch sentences.

    Supplementary material

    data sheet 1.docx
  • Flecken, M., Gerwien, J., Carroll, M., & von Stutterheim, C. (2015). Analyzing gaze allocation during language planning: A cross-linguistic study on dynamic events. Language and Cognition, 7(1), 138-166. doi:10.1017/langcog.2014.20.


    Studies on gaze allocation during sentence production have recently begun to implement cross-linguistic analyses in the investigation of visual and linguistic processing. The underlying assumption is that the aspects of a scene that attract attention prior to articulation are, in part, linked to the specifi c linguistic system and means used for expression. The present study concerns naturalistic, dynamic scenes (video clips) showing causative events (agent acting on an object) and exploits grammatical diff erences in the domain of verbal aspect, and the way in which the status of an event (a specifi c vs. habitual instance of an event) is encoded in English and German. Fixations in agent and action areas of interest were timelocked to utterance onset, and we focused on the pre-articulatory time span to shed light on sentence planning processes, involving message generation and scene conceptualization.
  • Flecken, M., Athanasopoulos, P., Kuipers, J. R., & Thierry, G. (2015). On the road to somewhere: Brain potentials reflect language effects on motion event perception. Cognition, 141, 41-51. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2015.04.006.


    Recent studies have identified neural correlates of language effects on perception in static domains of experience such as colour and objects. The generalization of such effects to dynamic domains like motion events remains elusive. Here, we focus on grammatical differences between languages relevant for the description of motion events and their impact on visual scene perception. Two groups of native speakers of German or English were presented with animated videos featuring a dot travelling along a trajectory towards a geometrical shape (endpoint). English is a language with grammatical aspect in which attention is drawn to trajectory and endpoint of motion events equally. German, in contrast, is a non-aspect language which highlights endpoints. We tested the comparative perceptual saliency of trajectory and endpoint of motion events by presenting motion event animations (primes) followed by a picture symbolising the event (target): In 75% of trials, the animation was followed by a mismatching picture (both trajectory and endpoint were different); in 10% of trials, only the trajectory depicted in the picture matched the prime; in 10% of trials, only the endpoint matched the prime; and in 5% of trials both trajectory and endpoint were matching, which was the condition requiring a response from the participant. In Experiment 1 we recorded event-related brain potentials elicited by the picture in native speakers of German and native speakers of English. German participants exhibited a larger P3 wave in the endpoint match than the trajectory match condition, whereas English speakers showed no P3 amplitude difference between conditions. In Experiment 2 participants performed a behavioural motion matching task using the same stimuli as those used in Experiment 1. German and English participants did not differ in response times showing that motion event verbalisation cannot readily account for the difference in P3 amplitude found in the first experiment. We argue that, even in a non-verbal context, the grammatical properties of the native language and associated sentence-level patterns of event encoding influence motion event perception, such that attention is automatically drawn towards aspects highlighted by the grammar.
  • Flecken, M., Carroll, M., Weimar, K., & Von Stutterheim, C. (2015). Driving along the road or heading for the village? Conceptual differences underlying motion event encoding in French, German, and French-German L2 users. Modern Language Journal, 99(S1), 100-122. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.2015.12181.x.


    The typological contrast between verb- and satellite-framed languages (Talmy, 1985) has set the basis for many empirical studies on L2 acquisition. The current analysis goes beyond this typology by looking in detail at the conceptualization of the path of motion in a motion event. We take as a starting point the cognitive salience of specific elements of motion events that are relevant when conceptualizing space. When expressing direction in French, specific spatial relations involving the entity in motion (its alignment and its distance toward a [potential] endpoint) are relevant, given a variety of path verbs in the lexicon expressing this information (e.g., se diriger vers, avancer to direct oneself toward,' to advance'). This is not the case in German (manner verbs in the lexicon mainly). In German, spatial information is packaged in adjuncts and particles and the path of motion is typically structured via features of the ground (entlanglaufen/fahren to walk/drive along') or endpoints (to walk/drive to/toward'). We investigate those fundamental differences in spatial conceptualization in French and German, as reflected in pre-articulatory patterns of attention allocation (measured with eye tracking) to moving entities and endpoints in motion scenes in an event description task. Our focus is on spatial conceptualization in an L2 (French L2 users of German), analyzing the extent to which these L2 users display target-like patterns or traces of L1 conceptualization transfer. Findings show that, in line with directional concepts expressed in verbs, L1 French speakers allocate more attention to entities in motion and endpoints, before utterance onset, than L1 German speakers do. The L2 German speakers pattern with L1 German speakers in the use of manner verbs, but they have not fully acquired the spatial concepts and means that structure the path of motion in the L2. This is reflected in pre-articulatory attention allocation patterns, according to which the L2 speakers pattern with native speakers of their L1 (French). The findings show a continued deep entrenchment of L1-based processing patterns and spatial frames of reference when speakers prepare for speech in an L2
  • Gerwien, J., & Flecken, M. (2015). There is no prime for time: the missing link between form and concept of progressive aspect in L2 production. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 18(5), 561-587. doi:10.1080/13670050.2015.1027144.


    The acquisition of linguistic structures that require perspective-taking at the level of message generation is challenging. We investigate use of progressive aspect in L2 event encoding, using a sentence priming paradigm. We focus on Dutch, in which use of progressive aspect is optional. The progressive consists of a prepositional phrase (‘aan het,’ at-the), plus a verbal infinitive. We ask, to what extent L2 speakers, in comparison to native speakers, show priming effects in relation to form (prepositional phrase) or conceptual (progressive aspect) prime sentences. In native Dutch speakers we find a priming effect for the ‘progressive prime,’ compared to a ‘neutral prime’ (aspectually neutral event description). In L2 speakers this effect was absent. For the form prime, no priming effects were obtained in native speakers, rather, we find evidence for a partial blocking effect in L2 speakers. Results suggest that the strength of the link between concept and form of progressive aspect differs in native and L2 speakers. Specific factors contributed to the L2 findings, e.g., level of L2 proficiency and degree of L2 exposure. We conclude that (1) the conceptual basis of grammatical aspect can be primed in native speakers, and (2) in L2 speakers, access to conceptual information is less automatized.

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