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A Dual-Process Activation Model: Processing definiteness and information status

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      Abstract

      The introduction of a new discourse referent with a descriptive noun phrase involves the introduction of a new concept and the assignment of a referent to that concept. Concepts can be inferred from previous context, and thus be pre-activated (e.g., gym activates the concept of the noun trainer), or can be discourse-new. The function of the definite article is to signal unique identifiability of the referent, and the function of the indefinite article is to assert the existence of a set introduced by the descriptive content. We tested to what extent concept pre-activation and the function of the definite and indefinite article affect referent activation during retrieval and integration as well as referent activation at the sentence level. In Experiment 1, a visual world eye tracking experiment, we found that inferred referents of definite noun phrases were more accessible at subsequent pronoun resolution than inferred referents of indefinite noun phrases. No effects of definiteness were observed for referents with brand-new concepts. In Experiment 2, recording event-related potentials at the noun phrase itself, referents with pre-activated concepts were accessed and integrated more easily than referents with brand-new concepts. Furthermore, definite and indefinite articles yielded differently large frontal negativities. We discuss our results within a Dual-Process Activation Model, which distinguishes two processes in referent management: concept activation and referent activation. Our data suggest that these processes not only affect noun phrase processing but also trigger specific pragmatic inferences at the sentence level.

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      Thirty years and counting: finding meaning in the N400 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP).

      We review the discovery, characterization, and evolving use of the N400, an event-related brain potential response linked to meaning processing. We describe the elicitation of N400s by an impressive range of stimulus types--including written, spoken, and signed words or pseudowords; drawings, photos, and videos of faces, objects, and actions; sounds; and mathematical symbols--and outline the sensitivity of N400 amplitude (as its latency is remarkably constant) to linguistic and nonlinguistic manipulations. We emphasize the effectiveness of the N400 as a dependent variable for examining almost every aspect of language processing and highlight its expanding use to probe semantic memory and to determine how the neurocognitive system dynamically and flexibly uses bottom-up and top-down information to make sense of the world. We conclude with different theories of the N400's functional significance and offer an N400-inspired reconceptualization of how meaning processing might unfold.
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        Cognitive Status and the Form of Referring Expressions in Discourse

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          Getting real about semantic illusions: rethinking the functional role of the P600 in language comprehension.

          In traditional theories of language comprehension, syntactic and semantic processing are inextricably linked. This assumption has been challenged by the 'semantic illusion effect' found in studies using event related brain potentials. Semantically anomalous sentences did not produce the expected increase in N400 amplitude but rather one in P600 amplitude. To explain these findings, complex models have been devised in which an independent semantic processing stream can arrive at a sentence interpretation that may differ from the interpretation prescribed by the syntactic structure of the sentence. We review five such multi-stream models and argue that they do not account for the full range of relevant results because they assume that the amplitude of the N400 indexes some form of semantic integration. Based on recent evidence we argue that N400 amplitude might reflect the retrieval of lexical information from memory. On this view, the absence of an N400-effect in semantic illusion sentences can be explained in terms of priming. Furthermore, we suggest that semantic integration, which has previously been linked to the N400 component, might be reflected in the P600 instead. When combined, these functional interpretations result in a single-stream account of language processing that can explain all of the Semantic Illusion data. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1]Department of German Linguistics, University of Cologne, Albertus Magnus Platz, 50923 Köln, DE
            [2]CRC Prominence in Language, Luxemburger Str. 299, 50939 Köln, DE
            Contributors
            Journal
            2397-1835
            Glossa: a journal of general linguistics
            Ubiquity Press
            2397-1835
            16 October 2018
            2018
            : 3
            : 1
            10.5334/gjgl.457
            Copyright: © 2018 The Author(s)

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

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