Effects of type of agreement violation and utterance position on the auditory processing of subject-verb agreement

An ERP study

Sithembinkosi Dube*, Carmen Kung, Varghese Peter, Jon Brock, Katherine Demuth

*Corresponding author for this work

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Previous ERP studies have often reported two ERP components-LAN and P600-in response to subject-verb (S-V) agreement violations (e.g., the boys *runs). However, the latency, amplitude and scalp distribution of these components have been shown to vary depending on various experiment-related factors. One factor that has not received attention is the extent to which the relative perceptual salience related to either the utterance position (verbal inflection in utterance-medial vs. utterance-final contexts) or the type of agreement violation (errors of omission vs. errors of commission) may influence the auditory processing of S-V agreement. The lack of reports on these effects in ERP studies may be due to the fact that most studies have used the visual modality, which does not reveal acoustic information. To address this gap, we used ERPs to measure the brain activity of Australian English-speaking adults while they listened to sentences in which the S-V agreement differed by type of agreement violation and utterance position. We observed early negative and positive clusters (AN/P600 effects) for the overall grammaticality effect. Further analysis revealed that the mean amplitude and distribution of the P600 effect was only significant in contexts where the S-V agreement violation occurred utterance-finally, regardless of type of agreement violation. The mean amplitude and distribution of the negativity did not differ significantly across types of agreement violation and utterance position. These findings suggest that the increased perceptual salience of the violation in utterance final position (due to phrase-final lengthening) influenced how S-V agreement violations were processed during sentence comprehension. Implications for the functional interpretation of language-related ERPs and experimental design are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number01276
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • subject-verb agreement
  • utterance position
  • type of agreement violation
  • ERPs
  • auditory modality

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