Send to

Choose Destination
J Cogn Neurosci. 2010 May;22(5):1036-53. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21269.

The interplay between prosody and syntax in sentence processing: the case of subject- and object-control verbs.

Author information

Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Centre for Cognition, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


This study addresses the question whether prosodic information can affect the choice for a syntactic analysis in auditory sentence processing. We manipulated the prosody (in the form of a prosodic break; PB) of locally ambiguous Dutch sentences to favor one of two interpretations. The experimental items contained two different types of so-called control verbs (subject and object control) in the matrix clause and were syntactically disambiguated by a transitive or by an intransitive verb. In Experiment 1, we established the default off-line preference of the items for a transitive or an intransitive disambiguating verb with a visual and an auditory fragment completion test. The results suggested that subject- and object-control verbs differently affect the syntactic structure that listeners expect. In Experiment 2, we investigated these two types of verbs separately in an on-line ERP study. Consistent with the literature, the PB elicited a closure positive shift. Furthermore, in subject-control items, an N400 effect for intransitive relative to transitive disambiguating verbs was found, both for sentences with and for sentences without a PB. This result suggests that the default preference for subject-control verbs goes in the same direction as the effect of the PB. In object-control items, an N400 effect for intransitive relative to transitive disambiguating verbs was found for sentences with a PB but no effect in the absence of a PB. This indicates that a PB can affect the syntactic analysis that listeners pursue.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon
Loading ...
Support Center