The linguistic processes underlying the P600

Ana C. Gouvea, Colin Phillips, Nina Kazanina, David Poeppel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The P600 is an event-related brain potential (ERP) typically associated with the processing of grammatical anomalies or incongruities. A similar response has also been observed in fully acceptable long-distance wh-dependencies. Such findings raise the question of whether these ERP responses reflect common underlying processes, and what might be the specific mechanisms that are shared between successful processing of well-formed sentences and the detection and repair of syntactic anomalies. The current study presents a comparison of the ERP responses elicited by syntactic violations, garden path sentences, and long-distance wh-dependencies, using maximally similar materials in a within-subjects design. Results showed that a P600 component was elicited by syntactic violations and garden path sentences, but was less robustly elicited in the long-distance wh-dependency condition. Differences in the scalp topography, onset and duration of the P600 effects are characterised in terms of the syntactic operations involved in building complex syntactic structures, with particular attention to retrieval processes, which control the latency of the P600, and structure building processes, which control its duration and amplitude.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-188
Number of pages40
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • Ambiguity
  • Event-related potentials
  • Left anterior negativity (LAN)
  • P600
  • Sentence processing
  • Syntactic dependencies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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