[PS-3.20] Degree of incrementality is modulated by experimental context - ERP evidence from German quantifier restriction

Augurzky, P. , Schlotterbeck, F. & Ulrich, R.

University of Tuebingen

Recent studies demonstrate that contextual cues incrementally affect quantifier processing. The experimental setting is one such factor: During online-processing of utterances containing quantifiers, the presence of semantically-related fillers may determine how quickly predictions are made concerning the referential meaning of upcoming material (Grodner et al., 2010).

Two ERP experiments investigated whether experimental context incrementally constrains quantifier restriction by manipulating proportions of restricted vs. non-restricted sentences. German versions of questions like 'Are all dots blue (?)/(, that are in the circle?)' were preceded by pictures that either allowed commitment to a truth value already at the adjective (blue) or only at the preposition (in) where meaning could be shifted to a subset reading. In Exp.1, 50% of all questions were restricted by an extraposed RC, whereas restriction probability was 20% in Exp. 2.

Only in Exp.2 did participants make immediate interpretational commitments as evidenced by an N400 on the adjective for locally false sentences. In Exp.1, this effect was delayed to the preposition. The findings demonstrate that contextual frequency affects expectations regarding upcoming semantic properties of an utterance. Thus, the degree of incrementality is not exclusively pre-determined by the processing mechanism but dynamically adapted to contextual demands.