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Conceptual influences on word order and voice in sentence production: Evidence from Japanese

Two experiments using a sentence recall task tested the effect of animacy on syntactic processing in Japanese sentence production. Experiment 1 and 2 showed that when Japanese native speakers recalled transitive sentences, they were more likely to assign animate entities earlier positions in the sentence than inanimate entities. In addition, Experiment 2 showed that they were more likely to recall animate entities than inanimate entities as sentence subjects in active and passive sentences. Thus conceptual information influenced both the way in which grammatical functions were assigned and choice of word order. We consider the implications of these findings for theories of language production.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

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Constraints on Implicit Learning of Grammatical Form-Meaning Connections

Although there is good evidence for implicit learning of associations between forms, little work has investigated implicit learning of form-meaning connections, and the findings are somewhat contradictory. Two experiments were carried out using a novel reaction time methodology to investigate implicit learning of grammatical form-meaning connections. Participants learned four novel articles but were not told about a critical semantic factor that determines agreement with the accompanying noun. Their task was to indicate as quickly as possible which of two pictures was being referred to by an article-noun combination. The measure of learning was whether response times would slow down when the agreement rule was violated (i.e., when the wrong article was used for the picture being referred to). Experiment 1 revealed such an effect when articles correlated with noun animacy, even for participants with no reported awareness of this regularity. In Experiment 2 no such effect was obtained when the regularity concerned the relative size of two objects. It is concluded that grammatical form-meaning connections may be learned implicitly, but learning is constrained by the nature of the meaning involved. It is argued that concepts are differentially available to implicit language learning processes.

from Language Learning

Examining the evidence for an independent semantic analyzer: An ERP study in Spanish

Recent ERP findings challenge the widespread assumption that syntactic and semantic processes are tightly coupled. Syntactically well-formed sentences that are semantically anomalous due to thematic mismatches elicit a P600, the component standardly associated with syntactic anomaly. This ‘thematic P600’ effect has been attributed to detection of semantically plausible thematic relations that conflict with the surface syntactic structure of the sentence, implying a processing architecture with an independent semantic analyzer. A key finding is that the P600 is selectively sensitive to the presence of plausible verb-argument relations, and that otherwise an N400 is elicited (The hearty meal was devouring … vs. The dusty tabletop was devouring …: Kim & Osterhout, 2005). The current study investigates in Spanish whether the evidence for an independent semantic analyzer is better explained by a standard architecture that rapidly integrates multiple sources of lexical, syntactic, and semantic information. The study manipulated the presence of plausible thematic relations, and varied the choice of auxiliary between passive-biased fue and active-progressive biased estaba. Results show a late positivity that appeared as soon as comprehenders detected an improbable combination of subject animacy, auxiliary bias, or verb voice morphology. This effect appeared at the lexical verb in the fue conditions and at the auxiliary in the estaba conditions. The late positivity elicited by surface thematic anomalies was the same, regardless of the presence of a plausible non-surface interpretation, and no N400 effects were elicited. These findings do not implicate an independent semantic analyzer, and are compatible with standard language processing architectures.

from Brain and Language

Conflicts in language processing: a new perspective on the N400-P600 distinction

Conflicts in language processing often correlate with late positive event-related brain potentials (ERPs), particularly when they are induced by inconsistencies between different information types (e.g. syntactic and thematic/plausibility information). However, under certain circumstances, similar sentence-level interpretation conflicts (inanimate subjects) engender negativity effects (N400 s) instead. The present ERP study was designed to shed light on this inconsistency. In previous studies showing monophasic positivities (P600 s), the conflict was irresolvable and induced via a verb, whereas N400 s were elicited by resolvable, argument-induced conflicts. Here, we therefore examined irresolvable argument-induced conflicts (pronoun case violations) in simple English sentences. Conflict strength was manipulated via the animacy of the first argument and the agreement status of the verb. Processing conflicts engendered a biphasic N400-late positivity pattern, with only the N400 sensitive to conflict strength (animacy). These results suggest that argument-induced conflicts engender N400 effects, (which we interpret in terms of increased competition for the Actor role) whereas irresolvable conflicts elicit late positivities (which we interpret as reflecting well-formedness categorisation).

from Neuropsychologia

Children’s understanding of the agent-patient relations in the transitive construction: Cross-linguistic comparisons between Cantonese, German, and English

Cantonese-, German-, and English-speaking children aged 2;6, 3,6, and 4,6 acted out transitive sentences containing novel verbs in three conditions: (1) agent and patient were cued redundantly by both word order and animacy; (2) agent and patient were marked only with word order; and (3) agent and patient were cued in conflicting ways with word order and animacy. All three age groups in all three languages comprehended the redundantly cued sentences. When word order was the only cue, English children showed the earliest comprehension at 2;6, then German, and then Cantonese children at 3;6. When the cues conflicted, none of the 2;6 children in any language comprehended in adult-like ways, whereas all of the children at 3;6 and 4;6 preferred word order over animacy (but with some cross-linguistic differences in performance as well). When animacy contrast changed across sentence types, Cantonese children comprehended the sentences differently at all three age levels, German children did so at the two younger ages, and English children only at the youngest age. The findings correspond well with the informativeness of word order in the three languages, suggesting that children’s learning of the syntactic marking of agent-patient relations is strongly influenced by nature of the language they hear around them.

from Cognitive Linguistics

Children’s understanding of the agent-patient relations in the transitive construction: Cross-linguistic comparisons between Cantonese, German, and English.

Cantonese-, German-, and English-speaking children aged 2;6, 3,6, and 4,6 acted out transitive sentences containing novel verbs in three conditions: (1) agent and patient were cued redundantly by both word order and animacy; (2) agent and patient were marked only with word order; and (3) agent and patient were cued in conflicting ways with word order and animacy. All three age groups in all three languages comprehended the redundantly cued sentences. When word order was the only cue, English children showed the earliest comprehension at 2;6, then German, and then Cantonese children at 3;6. When the cues conflicted, none of the 2;6 children in any language comprehended in adult-like ways, whereas all of the children at 3;6 and 4;6 preferred word order over animacy (but with some cross-linguistic differences in performance as well). When animacy contrast changed across sentence types, Cantonese children comprehended the sentences differently at all three age levels, German children did so at the two younger ages, and English children only at the youngest age. The findings correspond well with the informativeness of word order in the three languages, suggesting that children’s learning of the syntactic marking of agent-patient relations is strongly influenced by nature of the language they hear around them. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

from Cognitive Linguistics

Children’s understanding of the agent-patient relations in the transitive construction: Cross-linguistic comparisons between Cantonese, German, and English

Cantonese-, German-, and English-speaking children aged 2;6, 3,6, and 4,6 acted out transitive sentences containing novel verbs in three conditions: (1) agent and patient were cued redundantly by both word order and animacy; (2) agent and patient were marked only with word order; and (3) agent and patient were cued in conflicting ways with word order and animacy. All three age groups in all three languages comprehended the redundantly cued sentences. When word order was the only cue, English children showed the earliest comprehension at 2;6, then German, and then Cantonese children at 3;6. When the cues conflicted, none of the 2;6 children in any language comprehended in adult-like ways, whereas all of the children at 3;6 and 4;6 preferred word order over animacy (but with some cross-linguistic differences in performance as well). When animacy contrast changed across sentence types, Cantonese children comprehended the sentences differently at all three age levels, German children did so at the two younger ages, and English children only at the youngest age. The findings correspond well with the informativeness of word order in the three languages, suggesting that children’s learning of the syntactic marking of agent-patient relations is strongly influenced by nature of the language they hear around them. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

from Cognitive Linguistics