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Pitch accent type affects the N400 during referential processing

Schumacher, Petra B.a; Baumann, Stefanb

doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e328339874a

Discourse processing depends on semantic memory as well as maintaining and updating of a mental model. Using event-related potentials, we investigated how a referent's information status (new, accessible, given) is processed in combination with three different prosodic realizations (an appropriate accent and two inappropriate accents). The data reveal a biphasic N400-late positivity pattern, indicating that prosodic information affects an early discourse linking stage, during which prominence information reflecting a referent's accessibility is computed (N400), and a later discourse updating stage, during which conflicts between prosodic information and a referent's actual information status are detected (late positivity). Crucially, the data show that the N400 is not only sensitive to lexico-semantic relations but also to discourse accessibility induced by prosodic cues.

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aIndependent Emmy Noether Research Group, Department of English and Linguistics, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Mainz

bInstitute of Linguistics, Phonetics, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany

Correspondence to Dr Petra B. Schumacher, Department of English and Linguistics, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Jakob-Welder-Weg 18, 55099 Mainz, Germany

Tel: +49 6131 3923859; fax: +49 6131 3923836; e-mail:

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Received 22 February 2010 accepted 8 March 2010

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.