Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 323–345 | Cite as

Effects of Verbal Event Structure on Online Thematic Role Assignment

  • Evie MalaiaEmail author
  • Ronnie B. Wilbur
  • Christine Weber-Fox
Original Paper


Event structure describes the relationships between general semantics (Aktionsart) of the verb and its syntactic properties, separating verbs into two classes: telic verbs, which denote change of state events with an inherent end-point or boundary (catch, rescue), and atelic, which refer to homogenous activities (tease, host). As telic verbs describe events, in which the internal argument (Patient) is affected, we hypothesized that processing of telic verb template would activate syntactic position of the Patient during sentence comprehension. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded from 20 English speakers, who read sentences with reduced Object relative clauses, in which the verb was either telic or atelic. ERPs in relative clauses diverged on the definite article preceding the Agent: the atelic condition was characterized by larger amplitude negativity at the N100. Such processing differences are explained by activation of the syntactic position for the Patient by the event structure template of telic verbs.


Event structure Verb template Telicity Sentence processing 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Evie Malaia
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ronnie B. Wilbur
    • 2
    • 3
  • Christine Weber-Fox
    • 2
  1. 1.Southwest Center for Mind, Brain, and EducationUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  2. 2.Speech, Language, and Hearing SciencesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.Linguistics ProgramPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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