Syntactic and semantic information are computed online in a manner such that electrophysiological methods can detect distinct processes within a few hundred milliseconds of a word. The amplitude of the N400 response has been shown to reflect semantic integration of a word in the context of a preceding word, sentence, and discourse. We show, in a combined behavioural and ERP study, that the N400 amplitude to the same word, in nearly identical sentential contexts, is modulated as a function of subtly different morphosyntactic environments that condition either a generic (grass is green) or nongeneric (the grass is green) reading. The results suggest that N400 amplitude reflects not only the existence of a semantic computation but can reflect processes relevant to the type of semantic relation being computed. Specifically, it is sensitive to whether a word is interpreted as characterising a kind/type or an instance of a kind/token of a type.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Language and Linguistics
- Linguistics and Language