Disfluency in Spontaneous Speech (DiSS'01)

August 29-31, 2001
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Listeners’ ERP Responses to False Starts and Repetitions in Spontaneous Speech

Jan McAllister, Susan Cato-Symonds, and Blake Johnson

Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Hindle [1] suggested that false starts and repetitions should be handled differently in a computational account of the processing of the two kinds of disfluency, and there is behavioural evidence that the human sentence processing mechanism likewise honours this distinction [2]. The same dichotomy was also evident in the electrophysiological data reported here. False starts and repetitions were identified in a corpus of spontaneous speech. Control items for the false starts were prepared by excising the reparanda to yield apparently fluent items. Continuous EEG was recorded while subjects listened to items containing the false starts, fluent false start controls, and first and second tokens of repetitions. Compared with identical words in their fluent controls, the false starts elicited a positive response similar to the P600 which is reported for syntactically anomalous words [3, 4, 5]. By contrast, second tokens of repetitions in general resulted in increased amplitude of the N400 [6]; yet, when the same repetitions were excised from context and presented listfashion, they elicited the positive-going response which has been reported by other researchers [7].


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  3. Osterhout, L., and Holcomb, P. "Event-related brain potentials elicited by syntactic anomaly", Journal of Memory and Language 31, 1992, p 785-806.
  4. Osterhout, L., and Holcomb, P. "Event-related potentials and syntactic anomaly: Evidence of anomaly detection during the perception of continuous speech", Language and Cognitive Processes 8, 1993, p 413-437.
  5. Hagoort, P., Brown, C., and Groothusen, J. "The Syntactic Positive Shist (SPS) as an ERP-measure of syntactic processing", Language and Cognitive Processes 8, 1993, p 439-484.
  6. Kutas, M., and Hillyard, S. "Reading senseless sentences: Brain potentials reflect semantic incongruity", Science 207, 3, 1980, p 203-205.
  7. Rugg, M., Doyle, M.C., and Melan, C. "An event-related potential study of the effects of within- and acrossmodality word repetition", Language and Cognitive Processes 8, 1993, p 357-378.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  McAllister, Jan / Cato-Symonds, Susan / Johnson, Blake (2001): "Listeners’ ERP responses to false starts and repetitions in spontaneous speech", In DISS'01, 65-68.