Syntactic context effects in visual word recognition: An MEG study

Tal Linzen, Alec Marantz, Liina Pylkkänen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Words are typically encountered in the context of a sentence. Recent studies suggest that the contexts in which a word typically appears can affect the way it is recognized in isolation. We distinguish two types of context: collocational, involving specific lexical items, and syntactic, involving abstract syntactic structures. We investigate the effects of syntactic context using the distribution that verbs induce over the syntactic category of their complements (subcategorization frames). Magnetoencephalography (MEG) data was recorded while participants performed a lexical decision task. Verbs with low-entropy subcategorization distributions, in which most of the probability mass is concentrated on a handful of syntactic categories, elicited increased activity in the left anterior temporal lobe, a brain region associated with combinatory processing. Collocational context did not modulate neural activity, but had an effect on reaction times. These results indicate that both collocational and syntactic contextual factors affect word recognition, even in isolation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-139
Number of pages23
JournalMental Lexicon
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013


  • Anterior temporal lobe
  • Argument structure
  • Information theory
  • Lexical processing
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Subcategorization frames
  • Syntax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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