Event-related brain potentials during natural speech processing: effects of semantic, morphological and syntactic violations

Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 1993 Oct;1(3):183-92. doi: 10.1016/0926-6410(93)90026-2.


The present study investigated different aspects of auditory language comprehension. The sentences which were presented as connected speech were either correct or incorrect including a semantic error (selectional restriction), a morphological error (verb inflection), or a syntactic error (phrase structure). After each sentence, a probe word was presented auditorily, and subjects had to decide whether this word was part of the preceding sentence or not. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded from 7 scalp electrodes. The ERPs evoked by incorrect sentences differed significantly from the correct ones as a function of error type. Semantic anomalies evoked a 'classical' N400 pattern. Morphological errors elicited a pronounced negativity between 300 and 600 ms followed by a late positivity. Syntactic errors, in contrast, evoked an early negativity peaking around 180 ms followed by a negativity around 400 ms. The early negativity was only significant over the left anterior electrode. The present data demonstrate that linguistic errors of different categories evoke different ERP patterns. They indicate that with using connected speech as input, different aspects of language comprehension processes cannot only be described with respect to their temporal structure, but eventually also with respect to possible brain systems subserving these processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Semantics
  • Speech Perception / physiology*