Brain responses to filled gaps

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An unresolved issue in the study of sentence comprehension is whether the process of gap-filling is mediated by the construction of empty categories (traces), or whether the parser relates fillers directly to the associated verb’s argument structure. We conducted an event-related potentials (ERP) study that used the violation paradigm to examine the time course and spatial distribution of brain responses to ungrammatically filled gaps. The results indicate that the earliest brain response to the violation is an early left anterior negativity (eLAN). This ERP indexes an early phase of pure syntactic structure building, temporally preceding ERPs that reflect semantic integration and argument structure satisfaction. The finding is interpreted as evidence that gap-filling is mediated by structurally predicted empty categories, rather than directly by argument structure operations.

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