Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 71-98

First online:

Comprehending Semantic and Grammatical Violations in Italian. N400 and P600 Comparison with Visual and Auditory Stimuli

  • Michela BalconiAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Catholic University Email author 
  • , Uberto PozzoliAffiliated withBioengineering Laboratory, IRCCS, E. Medea Institute

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Arguments about the existence of language-specific neural systems and specifically about the independence of syntactic and semantic processing have focused on the event-related brain measures (ERPs) as tool to monitoring moment-by-moment the cognitive processes underlaid. In the present experiments, the available evidence indicates that the ERP response to semantic anomalies is at least partially distinct from the ERP response to syntactic anomalies and that two distinct processes are activated in sentences comprehension. ERPs were recorded from 10 electrodes while subjects read (Experiment 1) or listened (Experiment 2) to sentences containing semantic or syntactic violations. Final-words that were inconsistent with the sentence context elicited a negative-going wave at about 400 ms poststimulus, whereas penultimate-word incongruous with the grammatical structure (subject–verb non-agreement) elicited a positive-going wave about 600 ms poststimulus. No differences based on the perceptual modality of the stimulus (visual or auditory) nor different ERP correlates as a function of task-relevance (explicit/implicit task induction) were found. The implications of our results for Italian language are explained.


ERP measure semantic and syntactic violations task-relevance perceptual modality