Effects of semantic integration on subject–verb agreement: Evidence from Dutch

Veenstra, A., Acheson, D. J., Bock, K., & Meyer, A. S. (2014). Effects of semantic integration on subject–verb agreement: Evidence from Dutch. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 29(3), 355-380. doi:10.1080/01690965.2013.862284.
The generation of subject–verb agreement is a central component of grammatical encoding. It is sensitive to conceptual and grammatical influences, but the interplay between these factors is still not fully understood. We investigate how semantic integration of the subject noun phrase (‘the secretary of/with the governor’) and the Local Noun Number (‘the secretary with the governor/governors’) affect the ease of selecting the verb form. Two hypotheses are assessed: according to the notional hypothesis, integration encourages the assignment of the singular notional number to the noun phrase and facilitates the choice of the singular verb form. According to the lexical interference hypothesis, integration strengthens the competition between nouns within the subject phrase, making it harder to select the verb form when the nouns mismatch in number. In two experiments, adult speakers of Dutch completed spoken preambles (Experiment 1) or selected appropriate verb forms (Experiment 2). Results showed facilitatory effects of semantic integration (fewer errors and faster responses with increasing integration). These effects did not interact with the effects of the Local Noun Number (slower response times and higher error rates for mismatching than for matching noun numbers). The findings thus support the notional hypothesis and a model of agreement where conceptual and lexical factors independently contribute to the determination of the number of the subject noun phrase and, ultimately, the verb.
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