Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Recent studies indicate that the human brain attends to and uses grammatical gender cues during sentence comprehension. Here, we examine the nature and time course of the effect of gender on word-by-word sentence reading. Event related brain potentials were recorded to an article and noun, while native Spanish speakers read medium to high-constraint Spanish sentences for comprehension. The noun either fit the sentence meaning or not, and matched the preceding article in gender or not; in addition, the preceding article was either expected or unexpected based on prior sentence context. Semantically anomalous nouns elicited an N400. Gender disagreeing nouns elicited a posterior late positivity (P600), replicating previous findings for words. Gender agreement and semantic congruity interacted in both the N400 window—with a larger negativity frontally for double violations—and the P600 window—with a larger positivity for semantic anomalies, relative to the prestimulus baseline. Finally, unexpected articles elicited an enhanced positivity (500–700 msec post onset) relative to expected articles. Overall, our data indicate that readers anticipate and attend to the gender of both articles and nouns, and use gender in real time to maintain agreement and to build sentence meaning.