Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 45-63

First online:

Distinct Neurophysiological Patterns Reflecting Aspects of Syntactic Complexity and Syntactic Repair

  • Angela D. FriedericiAffiliated withMax Planck Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Email author 
  • , Anja HahneAffiliated withMax Planck Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
  • , Douglas SaddyAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, University of Potsdam

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Aspects of syntactic complexity and syntactic repair were investigated by comparing the event-related (brain) potentials (ERPs) for sentences of different syntactic complexity to those containing a syntactic violation. Previous research had shown that both aspects of syntactic processing are reflected in a late positivity (P600). Results from the present reading experiment demonstrate, however, that although both processing aspects elicit a late positivity, they are different in distribution. The repair-related positivity preceded by a negativity displayed a centroparietal distribution, whereas the complexity-related positivity showed a frontocentral scalp distribution. These data indicate that the P600 is not a unitary phenomenon. Moreover, the distributional differences strongly suggest that different neural structures underlie the two aspects of processing, namely syntactic repair and syntactic integration difficulties, most evident when processing syntactically complex sentences.

sentence processing ERP P600 syntactic complexity