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Representation and processing of multi-word expressions in the brain

Siyanova-Chanturia, Anna; Conklin, Kathy; Caffarra, Sendy; Kaan, Edith; van Heuven, Walter J.B.

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Anna Siyanova-Chanturia

Professor of Psycholinguistics

Sendy Caffarra

Edith Kaan


Language comprehension is sensitive to the predictability of the upcoming information. Prediction allows for smooth, expedient and successful communication. While general discourse-based constraints have been investigated in detail, more specific phrase-level prediction has received little attention. We address this gap by exploring the ERPs elicited during the comprehension of English binomials – familiar and predictable multi-word expressions. In Experiment 1a, participants read binomial expressions (knife and fork), infrequent strongly associated phrases (spoon and fork), and semantic violations (theme and fork). In Experiment 1b, participants read the same stimuli without “and”. Experiment 1a revealed that binomials elicited larger P300s and smaller N400s compared to the other conditions, reflecting the activation of a ‘template’ that matches the upcoming information (P300) and pointing to easier semantic integration (N400). In contrast, no differences were observed between binomials and associates in Experiment 1b. We conclude that distinct mechanisms underlie the processing of predicable and novel sequences.


Siyanova-Chanturia, A., Conklin, K., Caffarra, S., Kaan, E., & van Heuven, W. J. (2017). Representation and processing of multi-word expressions in the brain. Brain and Language, 175,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 9, 2017
Online Publication Date Nov 2, 2017
Publication Date Dec 31, 2017
Deposit Date Nov 6, 2017
Publicly Available Date Nov 3, 2018
Journal Brain and Language
Print ISSN 0093-934X
Electronic ISSN 1090-2155
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 175
Keywords Multi-word expressions; Binomials; Frequency; Predictability; ERPs; P300; N400
Public URL
Publisher URL
Contract Date Nov 6, 2017


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