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  Syntactic and semantic contributions of pitch accents during sentence comprehension

van der Burght, C., Friederici, A., Goucha, T., & Hartwigsen, G. (2019). Syntactic and semantic contributions of pitch accents during sentence comprehension. Poster presented at Architectures and Mechanisms of Language Processing 2019, Moscow, Russia.

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Item Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-CA52-C Version Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-CA53-B
Genre: Poster

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van_der _Burght_Stan_Moscau_2019_190904.pdf (Supplementary material), 2MB
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van_der _Burght_Stan_Moscau_2019_190904.pdf
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 Creators:
van der Burght, Constantijn1, 2, Author              
Friederici, Angela1, Author              
Goucha, Tomás1, Author              
Hartwigsen, Gesa2, Author              
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1Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, ou_634551              
2Lise Meitner Research Group Cognition and Plasticity, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, ou_3025665              

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Free keywords: prosody, information structure, syntax
 Abstract: Syntactic, semantic, and prosodic cues all establish expectations that guide sentence comprehension. In the prosodic domain, pitch accents can assign contrastive focus and resolve a syntactically ambiguous phrase. However, can prosodic focus marking (by pitch accenting) influence the interpretation of a sentence in the presence of syntactic and semantic cues? Our auditory experiment revolved around the sentence (in German) “Yesterday the policeman arrested the thief, not the murderer”. A pitch accent on either POLICEMAN or THIEF placed one of those arguments in contrastive focus with the ellipsis structure ("the murderer”). The two contrasted arguments could contain violations: in the syntax condition, the grammatical case of the article in the ellipsis structure mismatched the focused constituent in the main clause (nominative vs. accusative). In the semantic condition, the thematic roles of the contrasted words were incongruent (typical agent vs. patient roles of “arrest”). Visual comprehension questions probed the agent/patient role of the arguments in the sentence (subject or object), followed by a button-press response. Reaction times showed that if the pitch accent marked syntactic information that mismatched the syntactic information in the ellipsis structure, responses were delayed. The direction of the semantic effect depended on the focused noun. The response patterns showed that participants were led by the syntactic information to make their syntactic judgements, despite a conflicting expectation established by prosody. The experiment shows that pitch accents establish a syntactic expectation during sentence comprehension. However, these expectations are overwritten by incoming syntactic information to yield an interpretation of the sentence.

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 Dates: 2019-09-06
 Publication Status: Not specified
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Title: Architectures and Mechanisms of Language Processing 2019
Place of Event: Moscow, Russia
Start-/End Date: 2019-09-06 - 2019-09-08

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