Anticipating morphological and syntactic structures: investigating the pre-activation negativity

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


It is known that listeners can predict upcoming words based on constraining contexts (e.g. DeLong et al., 2005). In a recent study, we proposed a left frontal brain potential, the pre-activation negativity, PrAN (Söderström et al., 2016), thought to reflect pre-activation of expected word continuations. Time-locked to word-initial fragments, PrAN’s amplitude was found to increase in a 136-280 ms time window as the number of possible continuations decreased, suggesting that PrAN increased with increased predictive certainty about a word’s ending. In the present study, we tested whether a similar effect could be found for pre-activation of expected syntactic structures. In Swedish, intonation is used to signal whether an unfolding embedded clause is a main or subordinate clause. Specifically, a clause-initial word with a low boundary tone cues only subordinate clause structure. Conversely, a corresponding high tone signals that any kind of embedded main clause structure may follow, i.e. it cues a more open set of structures. Test participants listened to complex sentences and judged the word order of the verb (V) and negation (NEG) after the boundary tone as quickly as possible (NEG–V word order occurs in subordinate clauses and V–NEG in main clauses). ERPs were time-locked to the tone-bearing syllable. A repeated-measures ANOVA showed a negativity in left anterior electrodes at 136-280 ms for low initial boundary tones, which cue only subordinate clauses. We propose that this effect is a PrAN, but that it here reflects pre-activation of syntactic structures rather than possible word endings.


External organisations
  • Skåne University Hospital
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • ERP, fMRI, Morphology, Syntax, Prediction, Pre-activation
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Mar 27
Publication categoryResearch
EventCognitive Neuroscience Society Annual Meeting 2017 - San Francisco, United States
Duration: 2017 Mar 252017 Mar 28


ConferenceCognitive Neuroscience Society Annual Meeting 2017
CountryUnited States
CitySan Francisco

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