Event Abstract

Neurophysiology of speech act processing

  • 1 MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

A speech act is an utterance situated in context (Austin, 1962; Searle, 1975). Even a single word can perform different actions depending on its context (Wittgenstein, 1953; Dore, 1983). For example, a word can be used to name an object or to request it. In other words, in different contexts, the same utterance: “Orange!” means either “This is an orange”, or “Give me an orange”. The human ability to recognize speech acts has been demonstrated theoretically and experimentally in a number of behavioural (e.g. Holtgraves, 2008; Clark & Lucy 1975) and neuropsychological studies (Soroker et al., 2005). Little is known, however, about what neural networks subtend speech acts processing in healthy population and when the effect of pragmatic context first shows up. These questions were addressed in an EEG experiment during which the brain electrical activity was recorded with 128 electrodes while 20 native English participants watched experimental videos. Each video featured a context sentence (eliciting a speech act of Naming or Request) and 10 word-action pairs, in which the word was used to perform the act of Naming or Request, and the action (pointing in the Naming condition and handing an object over in the Request condition) completed the communicative situation. Identical single word tokens counterbalanced across subjects were used for both Naming and Request, which allowed for direct comparison between the two conditions and helped avoid the confound of syntactic complexity. The results suggest that differences between speech acts can be detected very early on (100-150 ms), with identical words eliciting more brain activation if used in the context of Request than in the context of Naming.

Keywords: EEG, Language

Conference: XI International Conference on Cognitive Neuroscience (ICON XI), Palma, Mallorca, Spain, 25 Sep - 29 Sep, 2011.

Presentation Type: Poster Presentation

Topic: Poster Sessions: Neural Bases of Language

Citation: Egorova N, Pulvermuller F and Shtyrov Y (2011). Neurophysiology of speech act processing. Conference Abstract: XI International Conference on Cognitive Neuroscience (ICON XI). doi: 10.3389/conf.fnhum.2011.207.00271

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Received: 22 Nov 2011; Published Online: 28 Nov 2011.

* Correspondence: Dr. Natalia Egorova, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, natalia.egorova@mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk