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ERI Talk - Clara Soberats: "Sentence meaning processing in neurotypical and Williams syndrome adults: electroencephalographic and behavioural evidence"

  • May 19th, 2023
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May 26th 2023. 12:00h. Onsite Session. Language: English.

Sentence meaning processing in neurotypical and Williams syndrome adults: electroencephalographic and behavioural evidence

Clara Soberats

ERI-Lectura (University of Valencia)


Meaning in any naturalistic utterance has a dual aspect: one is lexical-semantic memory, which enters into utterances in the form of words that we remember and retrieve; the other is the specific kind of meaning carried by grammar, which is intrinsically referential and integrative. I thus propose the Memory – Reference Iteration (MRIt) model, which defines meaning at the level of utterances as flowing dynamically from memory to reference through grammar and back. Based on this model, the N400 component is interpretable as capturing effects unique to the memory pole, while late positive components (LPC) are associate with the reference pole. In order to test the model, I conducted five experimental studies: the behavioural results of a self-paced reading paradigm showed that manipulation of grammatical meaning, such as I arrived to a Valencia last month, have only global but not local processing costs for neurotypical adults. Subsequent ERP studies in Italian and Spanish showed that such manipulations elicited LPC instead of N400, which was confined to lexically-driven anomalies, such as I arrived to a button last month. Adults with William syndrome (WS) exhibited preserved N400 in lexically anomalous sentences, but absent or atypical LPC, suggesting a specific weakness in referential anchoring because of an impairment in meaning integration at a grammatical level, rather than a lexical deficit per se. I further analyzed pauses classified by syntactic position in spontaneous speech and caregivers’ answers to a questionnaire, which reinforced the hypothesis of a referential anchoring deficit with preserved lexical semantics in adults with WS.



Clara Soberats Garau is a researcher at ERI-lectura (University of Valencia). She will soon defend her doctoral thesis on neurocognitive markers of grammatical meaning, which has been supervised by Wolfram Hinzen (Grammar and Cognitrion Lab, Universitat Pompeu Fabra) and Ruth de Diego Balaguer (Brain Mechanisms of Language Learning, University of Barcelona). During this predoctoral period she has spent a stay at the Università degli Studi di Trentro. She is also a member of the Laboratori de Complexitat i Lingüística Experimental de la Universitat de les Illes Balears. She has taught in the area of linguistics at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and in the master's degree in Learning Disorders at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. She has a master's degree in Human Evolution and a degree in Spanish Language and Literature.