The neurophysiology of grammatical constraints : ERP studies on the influence of prosody and pragmatics on the processing of syntax and morphology in Swedish

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)


This dissertation investigates the interaction of information from word order, morphology, lexical semantics, and prosody in the on-line processing of Swedish sentences using Event-Related Potentials.
Study I examines how the form, meaning, and syntactic position of objects influence their interpretation in ‘Object Shift’ contexts. In Swedish, object pronouns can either follow or precede sentence adverbs. Following a sentence adverb, pronouns are associated with sentence stress and may express inaccessible referents. Preceding the sentence adverb, they are clitics, and can only have accessible referents. Nouns cannot be clitics in Swedish and thus always follow sentence adverbs. In study I, sentence adverbs illicitly following nouns yielded a P600, showing difficulty in structural integration. After indefinite nouns, sentence adverbs also produced an early negativity, hinting at a pragmatic complication.
Studies II and III investigate the interaction of verb semantics, word order, and intonation in the interpretation of assertive force. Swedish assertive main clauses differ from subordinate clauses due to their post-verbal sentence adverbs and the presence of a left-edge boundary tone. After neutral verbs like ‘say,’ embedded main clauses are often used instead of subordinate clauses in order to express assertions. This is not possible with verbs like ‘hope,’ which question the truth of their complement. In the experiments, sentence adverbs in embedded clauses increased structural integration cost, as seen in a P600. The effect was greatest in embedded main clauses, where embedding verbs like ‘hope’ further increased the P600, while left-edge boundary tones reduced the effect.
Study IV examines Swedish word accents and morphology processing. Incorrect declension suffixes gave rise to N400 and P600 effects, showing influence on semantic processing as well as difficulty in integrating illicit suffixes into the word structure. Previous research has shown that Swedish word accents are conditioned by suffixes. In Study IV, Accent 2-inducing suffixes combined with stems associated with Accent 1 yielded a P600 effect, showing difficulty in processing the word structure.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Languages and Literature


  • linguistics, event-related potentials, ERP, pragmatics, language processing, prosody, syntax
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2009 Oct 16
  • Lund University
Print ISBNs978-91-628-7881-8
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2009-10-16 Time: 13:15 Place: Pangea (hörsal 229), Geocentrum II, Sölvegatan 12, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Alter, Kai Title: professor Affiliation: Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University, England --- The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Centre for Languages and Literature (015016000), Linguistics and Phonetics (015010003)