Agreement and number interference processes in Spanish: An ERP study

Salillas, E., Barber, H., and Carreiras, M.
University of La Laguna, Spain

Agreement processes represent a challenge to sentence processing systems in production and comprehension. Several experiments have investigated agreement processes between subject and verb in production by using complex noun phrases. Disruption of the local noun have been reported in production (eg., Bock & Miller, 1991; Bock et al, 1999;Vigliocco, et al. 1995,1996) and in comprehension (Nicol et al., 1997; Pearlmutter, et al., 1999) with behavioural measures.

We measured ERPs while reading sentences (a-c) that contained a complex noun phrase (NP1 of the NP2) followed by an adjective that had to agree with the first noun. We investigated the effect of the disruption of the local noun in grammatical sentences (a) and in ungrammatical sentences (b) as compared to the control condition (c), by manipulating the number mismatch between the head noun etiqueta (label) and the local noun botella/s (bottles) and the number agreement between the head noun and the adjective bonita/s (nice).

a. La etiqueta de las botellas siendo bonita fue arrancada. (mismatch, congruent) The label of the bottles being nice (singular) was taken off. b. La etiqueta de las botellas siendo bonitas (plural) fueron arrancadas. (mismatch, incongruent) c. La etiqueta de la botella siendo bonita (singular) fue arrancada. (match, congruent) The results showed that the amplitude of the P600 was larger in the mismatch conditions (a and b) than in the baseline (c), but importantly, was larger in the number disagreement condition (b) as compared to mismatch- agreement condition (a), especially in a late window. Results will be discussed according to current models of agreement and feature tracking.