Storage and processing of Dutch morphological information
Hernán Augusto Labbé Grunberg
By using a novel experimental paradigm to tackle an old, fundamental question in psycholinguistics, the work in this dissertation aims at shedding new light on how humans store and process simple and complex words: electrophysiological responses elicited by native Dutch speakers are compared across linguistic contexts of monomorphemic, inflectional and derivational word processing, as well as syntactic agreement in gender and number. What seems like a straightforward experiment with clear predictions for each competing hypothesis results in a complex set of results that answers some of the questions posed, and raises a considerable number of new questions in the field.
The evoked responses are assumed, based on previously published results in languages like Finnish, German and English, to be sensitive to the strength of consolidation of specific linguistic memory traces, such that more consolidated memory traces would result in larger responses. This basic assumption of how the evoked neural response works is the bases for all the predictions regarding the storage and processing of simple and morphologically complex words, as well as words embedded in syntactic agreement contexts. Although statistical significance is seldom achieved, the results of these experiments shows that there is indeed a systematic difference in the responses evoked by simple and morphologically complex words. This, in turn, suggests that these two types of words engage different types of neurocognitive mechanisms for their storage in memory and their processing during language comprehension.
Despite the differences between simple and complex words observed in the studies of this book, the sensitivity of the neurophysiological response to the strength of consolidation of lexical memory traces is challenged in numerous ways in this study. This study shows a reversed surface-form frequency effect with singular and plural nouns and a lack of sensitivity to the syntactic agreement contexts of words. Both results challenge the basic assumptions behind the experimental paradigm used and raise the question of which cognitive operation underlie the responses evoked by this paradigm. Overall, these experiments show that although there are differences between simple and morphologically complex in isolation or in syntactic contexts, more research is needed to know what causes these differences at the neurocognitive level.