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Information structure influences depth of syntactic processing: Event-related potential evidence for the Chomsky illusion

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Wang,  Lin
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;
Key Laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China;

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Bastiaansen,  Marcel C. M.
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;

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Hagoort,  Peter
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;

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Citation

Wang, L., Bastiaansen, M. C. M., Yang, Y., & Hagoort, P. (2012). Information structure influences depth of syntactic processing: Event-related potential evidence for the Chomsky illusion. PLoS One, 7(10), e47917. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047917.


Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-000F-EDF5-B
Abstract
Information structure facilitates communication between interlocutors by highlighting relevant information. It has previously been shown that information structure modulates the depth of semantic processing. Here we used event-related potentials to investigate whether information structure can modulate the depth of syntactic processing. In question-answer pairs, subtle (number agreement) or salient (phrase structure) syntactic violations were placed either in focus or out of focus through information structure marking. P600 effects to these violations reflect the depth of syntactic processing. For subtle violations, a P600 effect was observed in the focus condition, but not in the non-focus condition. For salient violations, comparable P600 effects were found in both conditions. These results indicate that information structure can modulate the depth of syntactic processing, but that this effect depends on the salience of the information. When subtle violations are not in focus, they are processed less elaborately. We label this phenomenon the Chomsky illusion.