Brain activity associated with syntactic incongruencies in words and pseudo-words

Thomas F. Münte*, Mike Matzke, Sönke Johannes

*Corresponding author for this work
145 Citations (Scopus)


Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded while normal German subjects read either simple declarative sentences made up from real German words, or sentences that contained German pseudo-words instead of nouns and verbs. The verb (pseudo-verb) of the sentences disagreed in number with the subject noun (pseudo-noun) in 50% of the sentences. The subjects had the task either to read the sentences for an interspersed memory test (memory condition, pseudo-word sentences only) or to make a syntactic judgment after each real-word/pseudo-word sentence. While in the real-word condition a late and widespread positivity resembling the previously described syntactic positive shift was found for the disagreeing verbs, a negativity with an onset latency of about 300 msec was seen for the disagreeing pseudo-verbs. In the pseudo-word conditions no positivity followed the initial negativity. This dissociation of negative and positive waves occurring in response to morphosyntactic mismatches by the pseudo/real-word manipulation suggests that the positive shift is a concomitant of a recomputation routine initiated to account for the number incongruency. This routine is based upon the semantics of the sentence and therefore is not observed in the pseudo-word conditions. The earlier negativity, on the other hand, appears to be a more direct index of morphosyntactic incongruency.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)318-329
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 1997

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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