Processing of grammatical agreement in the face of variation in lexical stress: A mismatch negativity study
Coopmans, C. W., Struiksma, M. E., Coopmans, P. H. A., & Chen, A.
Processing of grammatical agreement in the face of variation in lexical stress: A mismatch negativity study. Language and Speech. Advance online publication
Previous electroencephalography studies have yielded evidence for automatic processing of syntax and lexical stress. However, these studies looked at both effects in isolation, limiting their generalizability to everyday language comprehension. In the current study, we investigated automatic processing of grammatical agreement in the face of variation in lexical stress. Using an oddball paradigm, we measured the Mismatch Negativity (MMN) in Dutch-speaking participants while they listened to Dutch subject–verb sequences (linguistic context) or acoustically similar sequences in which the subject was replaced by filtered noise (nonlinguistic context). The verb forms differed in the inflectional suffix, rendering the subject–verb sequences grammatically correct or incorrect, and leading to a difference in the stress pattern of the verb forms. We found that the MMNs were modulated in both the linguistic and nonlinguistic condition, suggesting that the processing load induced by variation in lexical stress can hinder early automatic processing of grammatical agreement. However, as the morphological differences between the verb forms correlated with differences in number of syllables, an interpretation in terms of the prosodic structure of the sequences cannot be ruled out. Future research is needed to determine which of these factors (i.e., lexical stress, syllabic structure) most strongly modulate early syntactic processing.