[PS-3.9] Case information modulates semantic processing in Hindi

Kumar, N. 1 , Bornkessel-Schlesewsky , I. 2, 3 , Schlesewsky, M. 2, 4 & Choudhary, K. K. 1

1 Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Ropar,140001 Rupnagar, Punjab, India
2 School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia, Adelaide, 5001 South Australia, Australia
3 Department of Germanic Linguistics, University of Marburg, 35032 Marburg, Germany
4 Department of English and Linguistics, University of Mainz, 55099 Mainz, Germany

This ERP study investigated semantic processing in Hindi, a split-ergative and verb-final language. It thus aimed to examine the cross-linguistic generalizability of previous studies, the vast majority of which were undertaken in nominative-accusative languages. Here, 22 native speakers of Hindi read sentences and judged their plausibility. The design crossed the factors CASE (Nominative vs. Ergative) and PLAUSIBILITY (Plausible vs. Implausible), with the plausibility manipulation occurring on the clause-final verb. Results revealed a biphasic N400-LPS pattern for implausible versus plausible sentences in both nominative and ergative structures, thus replicating previous results from nominative-accusative languages (e.g. Roehm et al., 2007). However, both the N400 and the LPS were more pronounced for ergative structures. This modulation may reflect the higher predictive capacity of the ergative case, which allows the reader or hearer to predict an upcoming transitive verb and perfective aspect. As the ergative case does not modulate the predictability of individual verbs, however, this finding provides evidence against a semantic preactivation-based view of the N400 (e.g. Brouwer et al., 2012). Rather, ergative case may increase the salience of the clause-final verb by orienting attention towards it, thus leading to similar effects as previously demonstrated for information structural focus (Wang et al., 2009).