Syntax does not necessarily precede semantics in sentence processing: ERP evidence from Chinese

Y. Zhang, Ping Li, Q. Piao, Y. Liu, Y. Huang, H. Shu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


© 2013 Elsevier Inc.Two event-related potential experiments were conducted to examine whether the processing of syntactic category or syntactic subcategorization frame always needs to temporally precede semantic processing during the reading of Chinese sentences of object-subject-verb construction. The sentences contained (a) no anomalies, (b) semantic only anomalies, (c) syntactic category plus semantic anomalies, or (d) transitivity plus semantic anomalies. In both experiments, all three types of anomalies elicited a broad negativity between 300 and 500 ms. This negativity included an N400 effect, given its distribution. Moreover, syntactic category plus semantic anomalies elicited a P600 response, whereas the other two types of anomalies did not. The finding of N400 effects suggests that semantic integration can be attempted even when the processing of syntactic category or syntactic subcategorization frame is unsuccessful. Thus, syntactic processing is not a necessary prerequisite for the initiation of semantic integration in Chinese.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-19
Number of pages12
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Event-related brain potentials
  • Semantic processing
  • Sentence comprehension
  • Syntactic category
  • Syntactic processing
  • Verb argument structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Speech and Hearing

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