ERP correlates of prosody and syntax interaction in case of embedded sentences

Ferenc Honbolygó, Ágoston Török, Zoltán Bánréti, László Hunyadi, Valéria Csépe

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding spoken language depends on processing the delicate combination of grammatical structure, meaning and prosody of utterances. Previous studies have established that prosody influences the processing of sentences when the grammatical structure is ambiguous, however it is unclear how closely prosody and syntax are related when there is no ambiguity. In an event-related brain potential (ERP) study, we investigated the processing of embedded normal and pseudosentences in which all function and content words were replaced by meaningless words. Sentences could have either natural prosodic structure or incongruent prosodic structure, where the prosody deviated from the one expected based on the syntactic structure, but otherwise the sentences were unambiguous. The resulting ERP components (CPS) showed that the construction of prosodic structure was similar in normal and pseudosentences, thus suggesting that prosody has an abstract, recursive representation, independent of other linguistic information. Moreover, we found evidence that the incongruent prosody was not only detected (shown by the RAN), but it induced neural reintegration processes (shown by the P600) in spite of the syntactic structure of sentences being intact. These results suggest that the prosodic structure is a mandatory constituent of sentence structure building whenever it is present.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-33
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2016



  • Closure positive shift
  • Embedded sentences
  • Event related potentials
  • Intonation
  • Syntax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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