IS prosody a good predictor of up-coming information? ERPs evidence from spoken German sentences

Isel, F., Alter, K., and Friederici, A. D.
Department of Neuropsychology, Max Planck Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Leipzig, Germany

The question of whether prosody is exploited by the parser for predicting up-coming information has been addressed in the present study. We approached this issue by investigating the auditory processing of complex German verbs that do take a particle (e. g., an-laecheln [to smile-at]). Precisely, our goal was to determine whether the prosodic information of the inflected verb stem helps the parser to predict the occurrence of a split particle at a later position in the sentence. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded while twenty German listeners were processing morpho-lexically and/or prosodically correct or incorrect German sentences. The critical item was either the split particle or the preposition. Participants performed an off-line probe detection task (PDT). ERP data indicate that prosodic information of the verb stems is consulted on-line by the parser in order to predict the occurrence of a split particle. An N400-effect was found for the processing of split particles following verb stems which do not take a particle, but only if the prosodic contour of the verb stem specifically marks the presence of a split particle. We argue that the N400 component reflects the higher costs associated with the (unsuccessful) reaccess to the lexicon. Furthermore, as a general reflection of prosodic processes, a closure positive shift (CPS) was found at intonational phrase boundaries. Taken together, the present findings provide strong evidence for the notion that prosody is a good predictor of up-coming information during the auditory processing of German sentences. ences.