Grammatical agreement processing in reading: ERP findings and future directions

Cortex. 2011 Sep;47(8):908-30. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2011.02.019. Epub 2011 Mar 4.


In the domain of written sentence comprehension, the computation of agreement dependencies is generally considered as a form-driven processing routine whose domain is syntactic in nature. In the present review we discuss the main findings emerging in the Event-Related Potential (ERP) literature on sentence comprehension, focusing on the different dimensions of agreement patterns (features, values, constituents involved and language): Agreement mismatches usually evoke a biphasic electrophysiological pattern (Left Anterior Negativity - LAN, 300-450 msec and P600 after 500 msec). This ERP pattern is assumed to reflect rule-based computations sensitive to formal (inflectional) covariations of related words (trigger-target). Here we claim that agreement processing is sensitive to both the type of feature involved and the constituents that express the agreement dependency. More specifically, LAN could reflect violation of expectancy (elicited by the trigger) for the target functional morphology; later, trigger and target are structurally integrated at the sentence level (early P600). However, morphosyntactic information could trigger the activation of higher-level representations that are not strictly syntactic in nature. The recruitment of this additional non-syntactic information (mirrored by N400-like effects) indicates that rule-based computations of agreement dependencies are not blind to non-syntactic information but are often recruited to establish sentence-level relations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Reading*