Prosodic Breaks in Sentence Processing Investigated by Event-Related Potentials
Prosodic breaks (PBs) can indicate a sentence’s syntactic structure. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) are an excellent way to study auditory sentence processing, since they provide an on-line measure across a complete sentence, in contrast to other on- and off-line methods. ERPs for the first time allowed investigating the processing of a PB itself. PBs reliably elicit a closure positive shift (CPS). We first review several studies on the CPS, leading to the conclusion that it is elicited by abstract structuring or phrasing of the input. Then we review ERP findings concerning the role of PBs in sentence processing as indicated by ERP components like the N400, P600 and LAN. We focus on whether and how PBs can (help to) disambiguate locally ambiguous sentences. Differences in results between different studies can be related to differences in items, initial parsing preferences and tasks. Finally, directions for future research are discussed.