Closed class (determiners, pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions etc.) and open class (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) words have different linguistic functions and have been proposed to be processed by different neural systems. Here, event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded in young German-speaking subjects while they read closed class and open class words flashed upon a video-screen. In the first experiment closed class words were sorted into four different frequency categories and open class words into three categories. The words were presented in a list with the subjects' task to detect occasional non-words. A centroparietal negativity (N400) with a peak latency of about 400 ms varied in amplitude as a function of frequency in both classes. The N400 in closed class items, however, was considerably smaller than that in open class words of similar frequency. A left anterior negativity (N280/LPN) showed some degree of frequency-sensitivity regardless of word class. Only for the very high frequency closed class words a frontal negativity with an onset of about 400 ms was obtained (N400-700). This N400-700 effect was replicated in the second study, in which medium frequency closed and open class words and very high frequency closed class words were presented at the fifth position of simple German sentences. It is suggested that neither N400 nor the left anterior negativity (N280/LPN) distinguish qualitatively between the two word classes and thus claims about different brain systems involved in the processing of open and closed class words are not substantiated electrophysiologically. The N400-700 effect is possibly related to specific grammatical functions of some closed class items, such as determiners. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)