Authors: Sophia Paulitz, Eleonora Mocevic, Haoyun Dai, Megan Nakamura, Dr. Edith Kaan
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Edith Kaan
College: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
When we listen or read, we adapt quickly to a speaker’s or writer’s language, e.g. accent or word choice, that is, we tailor how we process language. This is known as linguistic adaptation. This project investigates adaptation at the level of sentence structure. To this aim, we record EEG (brain waves) from native English speakers while first exposing them to one type of sentence, and then to sentences of another structure. By looking at EEG, we can see if and how readers adapt. More specifically, we first present sentences (word-by-word) of the type “The customer drank a soda and a hamburger,” in which word “hamburger” does not make sense. Such anomalies are associated with an N400 brain wave component. We then expose readers to sentences of the type “The customer drank a soda and a hamburger was placed in front of him,” in which the word “hamburger” is no longer anomalous. If readers adapt to the sentence structure, “hamburger” should no longer elicit an N400. Preliminary results suggest that our predictions are borne out. This research will broaden our understanding of how humans dynamically adapt to variation in the language surrounding them, and to changing contexts in general.