Speech Rhythm Facilitates Syntactic Ambiguity Resolution: ERP Evidence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Authors:
  • Maria Paula Roncaglia-Denissen
  • Maren Schmidt-Kassow
  • Sonja A. Kotz


In the current event-related potential (ERP) study, we investigated how speech rhythm impacts speech segmentation and facilitates the resolution of syntactic ambiguities in auditory sentence processing. Participants listened to syntactically ambiguous German subject- and object-first sentences that were spoken with either regular or irregular speech rhythm. Rhythmicity was established by a constant metric pattern of three unstressed syllables between two stressed ones that created rhythmic groups of constant size. Accuracy rates in a comprehension task revealed that participants understood rhythmically regular sentences better than rhythmically irregular ones. Furthermore, the mean amplitude of the P600 component was reduced in response to object-first sentences only when embedded in rhythmically regular but not rhythmically irregular context. This P600 reduction indicates facilitated processing of sentence structure possibly due to a decrease in processing costs for the less-preferred structure (object-first). Our data suggest an early and continuous use of rhythm by the syntactic parser and support language processing models assuming an interactive and incremental use of linguistic information during language processing. © 2013 Roncaglia-Denissen et al.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere56000
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2013