N400 Evidence That the Early Stages of Lexical Access Ignore Knowledge About Phonological Alternations

Stephen Politzer-Ahles, Jueyao Lin, Lei Pan, Ka Keung Lee

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Hearing a word that was already expected often facilitates comprehension, attenuating the amplitude of the N400 event-related brain potential component. On the other hand, hearing a word that was not expected elicits a larger N400. In the present study, we examined whether the N400 would be attenuated when a person hears something that is not exactly what they expected but is a viable alternative pronunciation of the morpheme they expected. This was done using Mandarin syllables, some of which can be pronounced with different lexical tones depending on the context. In two large-sample experiments (total n = 160) testing syllables in isolation and in phonologically viable contexts, we found little evidence that hearing an alternative pronunciation of the expected word attenuates the N400. These results suggest that comprehenders do not take advantage of their knowledge about systematic phonological alternations during the early stages of prediction or discrimination.

Original languageEnglish
JournalLanguage and Speech
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • lexical activation
  • Mandarin tone
  • N400
  • phonological alternation
  • tone sandhi

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing

Cite this