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Neurocognitive traces of anticipation in text and discourse


Van Berkum,  Jos J. A.
Neurobiology of Language Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language in Action , MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Van Berkum, J. J. A. (2009). Neurocognitive traces of anticipation in text and discourse. Talk presented at Symposium on New Findings in the Neuroscience of Discourse, Annual Meeting of the Society for Text and Discourse. Rotterdam. 2009-07-26 - 2009-07-28.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-2395-5
If we did not have the capacity to anticipate, most of us would probably be dead. Anticipation is at the heart of survival. It prevents most of us from keeping poisonous snakes as pets, and from going out into a blizzard without a coat. It allows us to predict that we can find dinner in the local supermarket and need money to pay for it. Anticipation helps us cross the street, catch a frisbee in our hand instead of in our face, and select a mate with which we stand a chance at reproduction. After many years of neglect (with some notable exceptions), the concept of anticipation is also regaining ground in psycholinguistics. In my talk, I will review our electrophysiological evidence for anticipation in language use. Some of the evidence (e.g., Van Berkum et al., 2005; Otten et al., 2007; Otten & Van Berkum, 2008; 2009) comes from methods that probe for the anticipation of upcoming nouns in text by means of an earlier adjectival gender inflection. Another piece of evidence comes from implicit causality constructions such as "David praised Linda because...", where the subsequent presentation of a masculine pronoun elicits a P600 effect even though it is formally correct (Van Berkum et al., 2007). Furthermore, using the concept of 'readiness' as applied in memory-based text processing research (Gerrig & McKoon, 1998) as well as an interpretation of the N400 that has been around for quite some time (Kutas & Hillyard, 1984; Kutas & Federmeier, 2000; Federmeier & Kutas, 1999) I will argue that many discourse-dependent N400 effects (e.g., Nieuwland & Van Berkum, 2006; Otten & Van Berkum, 2007; Van Berkum et al., 1999; 2003; 2008; see Van Berkum, in press, for details) can be interpreted to reflect anticipation as well. The conclusion is that language users are continuously anticipating, using whatever language-internal and -external cues they have at their disposal. Furthermore, they can anticipate lots of different things (e.g., upcoming words, upcoming topics, upcoming turns, or just plain meaning that might soon be relevant). Although I will not provide the ultimate grand scheme in which to fit all this stuff, the diversity does make clear that we need a more precise analysis of what discourse-based anticipation really is, and which specific systems are recruited as readers and listeners look ahead.