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Marking the counterfactual: ERP evidence for pragmatic processing of German subjunctives

Kulakova, E; Freunberger, D; Roehm, D; (2014) Marking the counterfactual: ERP evidence for pragmatic processing of German subjunctives. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience , 8 , Article 548. 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00548. Green open access

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Abstract

Counterfactual conditionals are frequently used in language to express potentially valid reasoning from factually false suppositions. Counterfactuals provide two pieces of information: their literal meaning expresses a suppositional dependency between an antecedent (If the dice had been rigged…) and a consequent (… then the game would have been unfair). Their second, backgrounded meaning refers to the opposite state of affairs and suggests that, in fact, the dice were not rigged and the game was fair. Counterfactual antecedents are particularly intriguing because they set up a counterfactual world which is known to be false, but which is nevertheless kept to when evaluating the conditional's consequent. In the last years several event-related potential (ERP) studies have targeted the processing of counterfactual consequents, yet counterfactual antecedents have remained unstudied. We present an EEG/ERP investigation which employed German conditionals to compare subjunctive mood (which marks counterfactuality) with indicative mood at the critical point of mood disambiguation via auxiliary introduction in the conditional's antecedent. Conditional sentences were presented visually one word at a time. Participants completed an acceptability judgment and probe detection task which was not related to the critical manipulation of linguistic mood. ERPs at the point of mood disambiguation in the antecedent were compared between indicative and subjunctive. Our main finding is a transient negative deflection in frontal regions for subjunctive compared to indicative mood in a time-window of 450–600 ms. We discuss this novel finding in respect to working memory requirements for rule application and increased referential processing demands for the representation of counterfactuals' dual meaning. Our result suggests that the counterfactually implied dual meaning is processed without any delay at the earliest point where counterfactuality is marked by subjunctive mood.

Type: Article
Title: Marking the counterfactual: ERP evidence for pragmatic processing of German subjunctives
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00548
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00548
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2014 Kulakova, Freunberger and Roehm. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1477277
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