Andrea E. Martin


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  • Martin, A. E., & McElree, B. (2011). Direct-access retrieval during sentence comprehension: Evidence from Sluicing. Journal of Memory and Language, 64(4), 327-343. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2010.12.006.


    Language comprehension requires recovering meaning from linguistic form, even when the mapping between the two is indirect. A canonical example is ellipsis, the omission of information that is subsequently understood without being overtly pronounced. Comprehension of ellipsis requires retrieval of an antecedent from memory, without prior prediction, a property which enables the study of retrieval in situ ( Martin and McElree, 2008 and Martin and McElree, 2009). Sluicing, or inflectional-phrase ellipsis, in the presence of a conjunction, presents a test case where a competing antecedent position is syntactically licensed, in contrast with most cases of nonadjacent dependency, including verb–phrase ellipsis. We present speed–accuracy tradeoff and eye-movement data inconsistent with the hypothesis that retrieval is accomplished via a syntactically guided search, a particular variant of search not examined in past research. The observed timecourse profiles are consistent with the hypothesis that antecedents are retrieved via a cue-dependent direct-access mechanism susceptible to general memory variables.
  • Martin, A. E., & McElree, B. (2009). Memory operations that support language comprehension: Evidence from verb-phrase ellipsis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35(5), 1231-1239. doi:10.1037/a0016271.


    Comprehension of verb-phrase ellipsis (VPE) requires reevaluation of recently processed constituents, which often necessitates retrieval of information about the elided constituent from memory. A. E. Martin and B. McElree (2008) argued that representations formed during comprehension are content addressable and that VPE antecedents are retrieved from memory via a cue-dependent direct-access pointer rather than via a search process. This hypothesis was further tested by manipulating the location of interfering material—either before the onset of the antecedent (proactive interference; PI) or intervening between antecedent and ellipsis site (retroactive interference; RI). The speed–accuracy tradeoff procedure was used to measure the time course of VPE processing. The location of the interfering material affected VPE comprehension accuracy: RI conditions engendered lower accuracy than PI conditions. Crucially, location did not affect the speed of processing VPE, which is inconsistent with both forward and backward search mechanisms. The observed time-course profiles are consistent with the hypothesis that VPE antecedents are retrieved via a cue-dependent direct-access operation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Pylkkänen, L., Martin, A. E., McElree, B., & Smart, A. (2009). The Anterior Midline Field: Coercion or decision making? Brain and Language, 108(3), 184-190. doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2008.06.006.


    To study the neural bases of semantic composition in language processing without confounds from syntactic composition, recent magnetoencephalography (MEG) studies have investigated the processing of constructions that exhibit some type of syntax-semantics mismatch. The most studied case of such a mismatch is complement coercion; expressions such as the author began the book, where an entity-denoting noun phrase is coerced into an eventive meaning in order to match the semantic properties of the event-selecting verb (e.g., ‘the author began reading/writing the book’). These expressions have been found to elicit increased activity in the Anterior Midline Field (AMF), an MEG component elicited at frontomedial sensors at ∼400 ms after the onset of the coercing noun [Pylkkänen, L., & McElree, B. (2007). An MEG study of silent meaning. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 11]. Thus, the AMF constitutes a potential neural correlate of coercion. However, the AMF was generated in ventromedial prefrontal regions, which are heavily associated with decision-making. This raises the possibility that, instead of semantic processing, the AMF effect may have been related to the experimental task, which was a sensicality judgment. We tested this hypothesis by assessing the effect of coercion when subjects were simply reading for comprehension, without a decision-task. Additionally, we investigated coercion in an adjectival rather than a verbal environment to further generalize the findings. Our results show that an AMF effect of coercion is elicited without a decision-task and that the effect also extends to this novel syntactic environment. We conclude that in addition to its role in non-linguistic higher cognition, ventromedial prefrontal regions contribute to the resolution of syntax-semantics mismatches in language processing.

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