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Dialect Variation Influences the Phonological and Lexical-Semantic Word Processing in Sentences. Electrophysiological Evidence from a Cross-Dialectal Comprehension Study

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Henrich,  Karen
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Department of Language and Literature, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Lanwermeyer, M., Henrich, K., Rocholl, M. J., Schnell, H. T., Werth, A., Herrgen, J., et al. (2016). Dialect Variation Influences the Phonological and Lexical-Semantic Word Processing in Sentences. Electrophysiological Evidence from a Cross-Dialectal Comprehension Study. Frontiers in Psychology, 7: 739. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00739.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-7427-E
Abstract
This event-related potential (ERP) study examines the influence of dialectal competence differences (merged vs. unmerged dialect group) on cross-dialectal comprehension between Southern German dialects. It focuses on the question as to whether certain dialect phonemes, which are attributed to different lexemes in two dialect areas (Central Bavarian, Bavarian-Alemannic transition zone) evoke increased neural costs during sentence processing. In this context, the phonological and semantic processing of lexemes is compared in three types of potentially problematic communication settings (misunderstanding, incomprehension, allophonic variation = potential comprehension). For this purpose, an oddball design including whole sentences was combined with a semantic rating task. Listeners from the unmerged Central Bavarian dialect area heard sentences including either native or non-native lexemes from the merged neighboring dialect. These had to be evaluated with regard to their context acceptability. The main difference between the lexemes can be attributed to the fact that they have different meanings in the respective dialect areas or are non-existent in the linguistic competence of the Central Bavarians. The results provide evidence for the fact that non-native lexemes containing the diphthong lead to enhanced neural costs during sentence processing. The ERP results show a biphasic pattern (N2b/N400, LPC) for non-existent lexemes (incomprehension) as well as for semantically incongruous lexemes (misunderstanding), reflecting an early error detection mechanism and enhanced costs for semantic integration and evaluation. In contrast, allophonic deviations show reduced negativities and no LPC, indexing an unproblematic categorization and evaluation process. In the light of these results, an observed change of in the Bavarian Alemannic transition zone can be interpreted as a facilitation strategy of cross-dialectal comprehension to reduce both misunderstandings as well as neural costs in processing, which might be interpreted as the initial trigger for this particular phoneme change.