Tracking the time course of multi-word noun phrase production with ERPs or on when (and why) cat is faster than the big cat.Front Psychol. 2014; 5:586.FP
Words are rarely produced in isolation. Yet, our understanding of multi-word production, and especially its time course, is still rather poor. In this research, we use event-related potentials to examine the production of multi-word noun phrases in the context of overt picture naming. We track the processing costs associated with the production of these noun phrases as compared with the production of bare nouns, from picture onset to articulation. Behavioral results revealed longer naming latencies for French noun phrases with determiners and pre-nominal adjectives (D-A-N, the big cat) than for noun phrases with a determiner (D-N, the cat), or bare nouns (N, cat). The spatio-temporal analysis of the ERPs revealed differences in the duration of stable global electrophysiological patterns as a function of utterance format in two time windows, from ~190 to 300 ms after picture onset, and from ~530 ms after picture onset to 100 ms before articulation. These findings can be accommodated in the following model. During grammatical encoding (here from ~190 to 300 ms), the noun and adjective lemmas are accessed in parallel, followed by the selection of the gender-agreeing determiner. Phonological encoding (after ~530 ms) operates sequentially. As a consequence, the phonological encoding process is longer for longer utterances. In addition, when determiners are repeated across trials, their phonological encoding can be anticipated or primed, resulting in a shortened encoding process.