The Electrophysiology of Basic Phrase Building
Kramer, Stephanie E.
Heffner, Christopher C.
Lau, Ellen F.
Neufeld C, Kramer SE, Lapinskaya N, Heffner CC, Malko A, Lau EF (2016) The Electrophysiology of Basic Phrase Building. PLoS ONE 11(10): e0158446. doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0158446
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A defining trait of linguistic competence is the ability to combine elements into increasingly complex structures to denote, and to comprehend, a potentially infinite number of meanings. Recent magnetoencephalography (MEG) work has investigated these processes by comparing the response to nouns in combinatorial (blue car) and non-combinatorial (rnsh car) contexts. In the current study we extended this paradigm using electroencephalography (EEG) to dissociate the role of semantic content from phonological well-formedness (yerl car). We used event-related potential (ERP) recordings in order to better relate the observed neurophysiological correlates of basic combinatorial operations to prior ERP work on comprehension. We found that nouns in combinatorial contexts (blue car) elicited a greater centro-parietal negativity between 180-400ms, independent of the phonological well-formedness of the context word. We discuss the potential relationship between this ‘combinatorial’ effect and classic N400 effects. We also report preliminary evidence for an early anterior negative deflection immediately preceding the critical noun in combinatorial contexts, which we tentatively interpret as an electrophysiological reflex of syntactic structure initialization.