During sentence production, linguistic information (semantics, syntax, phonology) of words is retrieved and assembled into a meaningful utterance. There is still debate on how we assemble single words into more complex syntactic structures such as noun phrases or sentences. In the present study, event-related potentials (ERPs) were used to investigate the time course of syntactic planning. Thirty-three volunteers described visually animated scenes using naming formats varying in syntactic complexity: from simple words ('W', e.g., "triangle", "red", "square", "green", "to fly towards"), to noun phrases ('NP', e.g., "the red triangle", "the green square", "to fly towards"), to a sentence ('S', e.g., "The red triangle flies towards the green square."). Behaviourally, we observed an increase in errors and corrections with increasing syntactic complexity, indicating a successful experimental manipulation. In the ERPs following scene onset, syntactic complexity variations were found in a P300-like component ('S'/'NP'>'W') and a fronto-central negativity (linear increase with syntactic complexity). In addition, the scene could display two actions - unpredictable for the participant, as the disambiguation occurred only later in the animation. Time-locked to the moment of visual disambiguation of the action and thus the verb, we observed another P300 component ('S'>'NP'/'W'). The data show for the first time evidence of sensitivity to syntactic planning within the P300 time window, time-locked to visual events critical of syntactic planning. We discuss the findings in the light of current syntactic planning views.
- ELECTROPHYSIOLOGICAL EVIDENCE
- LANGUAGE PRODUCTION
- LEXICAL ACCESS