Andrea E. Martin


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  • Martin, A. E., Nieuwland, M. S., & Carreiras, M. (2012). Event-related brain potentials index cue-based retrieval interference during sentence comprehension. NeuroImage, 59(2), 1859-1869. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.08.057.


    Successful language use requires access to products of past processing within an evolving discourse. A central issue for any neurocognitive theory of language then concerns the role of memory variables during language processing. Under a cue-based retrieval account of language comprehension, linguistic dependency resolution (e.g., retrieving antecedents) is subject to interference from other information in the sentence, especially information that occurs between the words that form the dependency (e.g., between the antecedent and the retrieval site). Retrieval interference may then shape processing complexity as a function of the match of the information at retrieval with the antecedent versus other recent or similar items in memory. To address these issues, we studied the online processing of ellipsis in Castilian Spanish, a language with morphological gender agreement. We recorded event-related brain potentials while participants read sentences containing noun-phrase ellipsis indicated by the determiner otro/a (‘another’). These determiners had a grammatically correct or incorrect gender with respect to their antecedent nouns that occurred earlier in the sentence. Moreover, between each antecedent and determiner, another noun phrase occurred that was structurally unavailable as an antecedent and that matched or mismatched the gender of the antecedent (i.e., a local agreement attractor). In contrast to extant P600 results on agreement violation processing, and inconsistent with predictions from neurocognitive models of sentence processing, grammatically incorrect determiners evoked a sustained, broadly distributed negativity compared to correct ones between 400 and 1000 ms after word onset, possibly related to sustained negativities as observed for referential processing difficulties. Crucially, this effect was modulated by the attractor: an increased negativity was observed for grammatically correct determiners that did not match the gender of the attractor, suggesting that structurally unavailable noun phrases were at least temporarily considered for grammatically correct ellipsis. These results constitute the first ERP evidence for cue-based retrieval interference during comprehension of grammatical sentences.
  • Nieuwland, M. S., Martin, A. E., & Carreiras, M. (2012). Brain regions that process case: Evidence from basque. Human Brain Mapping, 33(11), 2509-2520. doi:10.1002/hbm.21377.


    The aim of this event-related fMRI study was to investigate the cortical networks involved in case processing, an operation that is crucial to language comprehension yet whose neural underpinnings are not well-understood. What is the relationship of these networks to those that serve other aspects of syntactic and semantic processing? Participants read Basque sentences that contained case violations, number agreement violations or semantic anomalies, or that were both syntactically and semantically correct. Case violations elicited activity increases, compared to correct control sentences, in a set of parietal regions including the posterior cingulate, the precuneus, and the left and right inferior parietal lobules. Number agreement violations also elicited activity increases in left and right inferior parietal regions, and additional activations in the left and right middle frontal gyrus. Regions-of-interest analyses showed that almost all of the clusters that were responsive to case or number agreement violations did not differentiate between these two. In contrast, the left and right anterior inferior frontal gyrus and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex were only sensitive to semantic violations. Our results suggest that whereas syntactic and semantic anomalies clearly recruit distinct neural circuits, case, and number violations recruit largely overlapping neural circuits and that the distinction between the two rests on the relative contributions of parietal and prefrontal regions, respectively. Furthermore, our results are consistent with recently reported contributions of bilateral parietal and dorsolateral brain regions to syntactic processing, pointing towards potential extensions of current neurocognitive theories of language. Hum Brain Mapp, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
  • Nieuwland, M. S., & Martin, A. E. (2012). If the real world were irrelevant, so to speak: The role of propositional truth-value in counterfactual sentence comprehension. Cognition, 122(1), 102-109. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2011.09.001.


    Propositional truth-value can be a defining feature of a sentence’s relevance to the unfolding discourse, and establishing propositional truth-value in context can be key to successful interpretation. In the current study, we investigate its role in the comprehension of counterfactual conditionals, which describe imaginary consequences of hypothetical events, and are thought to require keeping in mind both what is true and what is false. Pre-stored real-world knowledge may therefore intrude upon and delay counterfactual comprehension, which is predicted by some accounts of discourse comprehension, and has been observed during online comprehension. The impact of propositional truth-value may thus be delayed in counterfactual conditionals, as also claimed for sentences containing other types of logical operators (e.g., negation, scalar quantifiers). In an event-related potential (ERP) experiment, we investigated the impact of propositional truth-value when described consequences are both true and predictable given the counterfactual premise. False words elicited larger N400 ERPs than true words, in negated counterfactual sentences (e.g., “If N.A.S.A. had not developed its Apollo Project, the first country to land on the moon would have been Russia/America”) and real-world sentences (e.g., “Because N.A.S.A. developed its Apollo Project, the first country to land on the moon was America/Russia”) alike. These indistinguishable N400 effects of propositional truth-value, elicited by opposite word pairs, argue against disruptions by real-world knowledge during counterfactual comprehension, and suggest that incoming words are mapped onto the counterfactual context without any delay. Thus, provided a sufficiently constraining context, propositional truth-value rapidly impacts ongoing semantic processing, be the proposition factual or counterfactual.

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