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Portions and sorts in Icelandic: an ERP study

Portions and sorts in Icelandic: an ERP study

Whelpton, M., Trotter, D.,Guðmundsdóttir Beck, Þ., Anderson, C., Maling, J., Durvasula, K., & Beretta, A.
Brain and Language

An ERP study investigated the processing of mass nouns used to convey ‘portions’ vs. ‘sorts’ interpretations in Icelandic. The sorts interpretation requires semantic Coercion to a count noun; the portions interpretation entails extra syntactic processing. Compared to a Neutral condition, Coercion escaped the expected penalty (N400), but the Extra Syntax condition incurred the anticipated costs (anterior negativity followed by P600).

Furthermore, we examined the effects of having to revise an initial commitment to head-noun status. When another noun follows the mass noun (creating a compound), the second noun becomes the head-noun. We hypothesized, for Icelandic, there would be no effect for Extra Syntax because the compound should have been built before the second noun was encountered; by contrast, for the Coercion and Neutral conditions, processing costs would be incurred to detect and reconfigure the second noun as the head. These predictions were largely borne out (early and sustained anterior negativities).


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