Idioms and fixed expressions as linguistic tools to study prediction and integration during sentence comprehension

Francesco Vespignani - Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, University of Trento

Idioms and fixed expressions as linguistic tools to study prediction and integration during sentence comprehension

Francesco Vespignani
Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences
University of Trento

Anticipatory processes based on specific predictions of upcoming events are pervasive in cognition and a growing body of research suggests a key role of anticipation in language processing. In this talk I will present results from a series of event-related potential (ERP) studies investigating fixed expressions such as idioms (e.g. to build castels in the air) and complex prepositions (e.g. with reference to). These are linguistic structures in which the cognitive system is likely to develop strong predictions that are different in nature from the discourse-based semantic ones. We found that manipulations of these structures lead to ERP correlates different from the N400, which is typically considered as the more reliable physiological sign of anticipation during sentence comprehension.

Starting from these examples I will try to address the following issues: is the current methodology and the interpretative framework of EEG/ERP data adequate to study predictive and anticipatory mechanisms? Is it conceivable that a unique cognitive architecture develops predictions and anticipated representations at different levels of abstraction on the basis of different sources of information?

Francesco Vespignani

Francesco Vespignani received a PhD in Cognitive Sciences at the University of Padova with a thesis on the ERP correlates of relative clause attachment. From 2007 he is Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences of the University of Trento and a member of the PhD program in Psychological Sciences and Education. His main research interests are in the study of the mechanisms of sentence comprehension with a particular emphasis on syntactic aspects of processing. Key research methods include ERPs and behavioral measures (eye-tracking and self-paced reading). He has also sporadically collaborated on projects investigating other cognitive functions such as central attention and numerical cognition. He has been partner of national and international projects, such as the ITN network Language Gender and Cognition, and he is currently involved in the EC project Advancing the Multilingual European Experience. He has been recently active in the organization of national and international conferences and schools (Psycholinguistics across the borders workshop, 2010; AMLaP conference, 2012; Methods in language comprehension school 2013, 2014; Experimental section of the AIP conference, 2015).