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Electrophysiology of subject-verb agreement mediated by speakers’ gender

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      An important property of speech is that it explicitly conveys features of a speaker’s identity such as age or gender. This event-related potential (ERP) study examined the effects of social information provided by a speaker’s gender, i.e., the conceptual representation of gender, on subject–verb agreement. Despite numerous studies on agreement, little is known about syntactic computations generated by speaker characteristics extracted from the acoustic signal. Slovak is well suited to investigate this issue because it is a morphologically rich language in which agreement involves features for number, case, and gender. Grammaticality of a sentence can be evaluated by checking a speaker’s gender as conveyed by his/her voice. We examined how conceptual information about speaker gender, which is not syntactic but rather social and pragmatic in nature, is interpreted for the computation of agreement patterns. ERP responses to verbs disagreeing with the speaker’s gender (e.g., a sentence including a masculine verbal inflection spoken by a female person ‘the neighbors were upset because I stole MASC plums’) elicited a larger early posterior negativity compared to correct sentences. When the agreement was purely syntactic and did not depend on the speaker’s gender, a disagreement between a formally marked subject and the verb inflection (e.g., the woman FEM stole MASC plums) resulted in a larger P600 preceded by a larger anterior negativity compared to the control sentences. This result is in line with proposals according to which the recruitment of non-syntactic information such as the gender of the speaker results in N400-like effects, while formally marked syntactic features lead to structural integration as reflected in a LAN/P600 complex.

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      Functional dissociations within the neural basis of auditory sentence processing are difficult to specify because phonological, syntactic and semantic information are all involved when sentences are perceived. In this review I argue that sentence processing is supported by a temporo-frontal network. Within this network, temporal regions subserve aspects of identification and frontal regions the building of syntactic and semantic relations. Temporal analyses of brain activation within this network support syntax-first models because they reveal that building of syntactic structure precedes semantic processes and that these interact only during a later stage.
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          The proactive brain: using analogies and associations to generate predictions.

           Moshe Bar (2007)
          Rather than passively 'waiting' to be activated by sensations, it is proposed that the human brain is continuously busy generating predictions that approximate the relevant future. Building on previous work, this proposal posits that rudimentary information is extracted rapidly from the input to derive analogies linking that input with representations in memory. The linked stored representations then activate the associations that are relevant in the specific context, which provides focused predictions. These predictions facilitate perception and cognition by pre-sensitizing relevant representations. Predictions regarding complex information, such as those required in social interactions, integrate multiple analogies. This cognitive neuroscience framework can help explain a variety of phenomena, ranging from recognition to first impressions, and from the brain's 'default mode' to a host of mental disorders.

            Author and article information

            1Department of German Linguistics, University of Freiburg Freiburg, Germany
            2BCBL – Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain
            3IKERBASQUE, Basque Foundation for Science Bilbao, Spain
            4Departamento de Lengua Vasca y Comunicación, University of the Basque Country Donostia, Spain
            Author notes

            Edited by: Alan Garnham, University of Sussex, UK

            Reviewed by: Ramesh Kumar Mishra, University of Hyderabad, India; Thomas A. Farmer, University of Rochester, USA

            *Correspondence: Adriana Hanulíková, Department of German Linguistics, University of Freiburg, Platz der Universität 3, 79098 Freiburg, Germany, adriana.hanulikova@

            This article was submitted to Cognition, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology

            Front Psychol
            Front Psychol
            Front. Psychol.
            Frontiers in Psychology
            Frontiers Media S.A.
            15 September 2015
            : 6
            4569809 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01396
            Copyright © 2015 Hanulíková and Carreiras.

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

            Figures: 2, Tables: 1, Equations: 0, References: 82, Pages: 12, Words: 0
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