Ana-Maria Pleșca

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Institut für deutsche Sprache und Linguistik

My academic journey started at University of Bucharest where I graduated with a B.A. in German and Swedish studies. I then pursued my Master’s studies at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin where I became passionate about psycholinguistics, while also working as a student research assistant first at the Nordeuropa Institute and then as part of the Psycholinguistics Lab of the Institute for German Language and Linguistics. I have written my Master’s thesis within the C03 project, where I examined the interplay of situation-formality register congruence and verb-argument relations by way of two web-based self-paced reading experiments. As an MGK fellow, I will continue working within the C03 and exploring the impact of social contextual information and register on language comprehension as well as its possible interaction with aspects of standard language knowledge such as the semantic relationship between a verb and its argument. By way of an eye-tracking study, my project which will be conducted under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Pia Knoeferle, will assess how the visually and linguistically expressed register impacts written language comprehension.


MGK Integrated Graduate School
C03 Real-time register comprehension in adolescent heritage speakers’ languages


Publications & Presentations


  • Pescuma, Valentina Nicole; Serova, Dina; Lukassek, Julia; Sauermann, Antje; Schäfer, Roland; Adli, Aria; Bildhauer, Felix; Egg, Markus; Hülk, Kristina; Ito, Aine; Jannedy, Stefanie; Kordoni, Valia; Kühnast, Milena; Kutscher, Silvia; Lange, Robert; Lehmann, Nico; Liu, Mingya; Lütke, Beate; Maquate, Katja; Mooshammer, Christine; Mortezapour, Vahid; Müller, Stefan; Norde, Muriel; Pankratz, Elizabeth; Patarroyo, Angela Giovanna; Plesca, Ana-Maria; Ronderos, Camilo R.; Rotter, Stephanie; Sauerland, Uli; Schulte, Britta; Schüppenhauer, Gediminas; Sell, Bianca Maria; Solt, Stephanie; Terada, Megumi; Tsiapou, Dimitra; Verhoeven, Elisabeth; Weirich, Melanie; Wiese, Heike; Zaruba, Kathy; Zeige, Lars Erik; Lüdeling, Anke; Knoeferle, Pia; Schnelle, Gohar  (2023) Situating language register across the ages, languages, modalities, and cultural aspects: Evidence from complementary methods  In: Frontiers in Psychology [DOI] [PDF] [ViVo]
    In the present review paper by members of the collaborative research center ‘Register: Language Users’ Knowledge of SituationalFunctional Variation’ (CRC 1412), we assess the pervasiveness of register phenomena across different time periods, languages, modalities, and cultures. We define ‘register’ as recurring variation in language use depending on the function of language and on the social situation. Informed by rich data, we aim to better understand and model the knowledge involved in situation- and function-based use of language register. In order to achieve this goal, we are using complementary methods and measures. In the review, we start by clarifying the concept of ‘register’, by reviewing the state of the art, and by setting out our methods and modeling goals. Against this background, we discuss three key challenges, two at the methodological level and one at the theoretical level: 1. To better uncover registers in text and spoken corpora, we propose changes to established analytical approaches. 2. To tease apart between-subject variability from the linguistic variability at issue (intra-individual situation based register variability), we use within-subject designs and the modeling of individuals’ social, language, and educational background. 3. We highlight a gap in cognitive modeling, viz. modeling the mental representations of register (processing), and present our first attempts at filling this gap. We argue that the targeted use of multiple complementary methods and measures supports investigating the pervasiveness of register phenomena and yields comprehensive insights into the cross-methodological robustness of register-related language variability. These comprehensive insights in turn provide a solid foundation for associated cognitive modeling.
  • Plesca, Ana-Maria; Maquate, Katja; Knoeferle, Pia  (2023) Examining register and semantic verb-argument congruence effects: An eye-tracking reading study  In: AMLaP 2023 [ViVo]

    In an eye-tracking reading study (N = 32), we investigated whether situation-formality information would rapidly impact comprehension and whether the processing of situation-formality-register and verb-argument congruence is (dis)similar. We compared congruence between a) situation-formality and linguistic register and b) a verb and its argument during real-time sentence reading. Participants were primed with (in)formal context sentences and object depictions. Target sentences contained manipulations resulting from crossing a) and b) with 2 levels each (match vs. mismatch). A picture-sentence verification task informed about reaction times and accuracy. We found significant rapid effects of verb-argument (in)congruence, with increased reading and reaction times, as well as decreased picture-sentence-verification accuracy for  mismatches (vs. matches). When verb-argument congruence mismatched, processing efforts were likely directed toward integrating and re-evaluating the conflicting information. Unexpectedly, participants read register-matching conditions (vs. mismatching) significantly slower, possibly reflecting competition of strongly activated concepts. Moreover, accuracy decreased for conditions including both verb-argument and register mismatches (vs. only verb-argument mismatches), resulting in a register-by-verb-argument interaction. Overall the findings suggest that register may impact comprehension at a later stage, and that along with verb-argument congruence, it could have had an additive effect on comprehension.

  • Plesca, Ana-Maria; Maquate, Katja; Knoeferle, Pia  (2022) The interplay of situation-formality register congruence and verb-argument relations  In: HSP 2022, UC Santa Cruz [ViVo]

    The semantic relation between a verb and its argument rapidly impacts language comprehension (Altmann & Kamide, 1999; McRae et al., 1998) and so does world knowledge and linguistic context (e.g., Altmann & Steedmann, 1988; Kutas & Hillyard, 1984). Situation formality represents another facet of world knowledge that could incrementally modulate comprehension, and interact (or not) with a verb’s thematic requirements. In two self-paced reading experiments with cumulative, phrase-by-phrase presentation, we examined the interplay of register-context (mis)matches, with (mis)matches in verb-argument relations. Additionally, a secondary picture-selection task was used in order to explore to which extent comprehenders may be able to differentiate between depicted register variants. We further assessed whether register effects emerge when situation formality varied from one trial to the next or only when it was blocked.

    Design: Both experiments employed a 2x2 design (register-context congruence x verb- argument relation congruence). The register-context factor was realized via a sentence introducing a situation-formality context that (mis)matched the register of the target sentence. The verb-argument relation manipulation was embedded in the target sentence (match: tie shoes vs. mismatch: tie clothes, Table 1). While in Exp. 1 the items were blocked by formality level, in Exp. 2 they were fully pseudo-randomized. We expected a main effect of verb-argument (in)congruence, with increased reading times for incongruent(vs. congruent) verb-argument relations in the critical or spillover regions, or for the entire sentence, longer reaction times and decreased accuracy. Additionally, a main effect of register-context (in)congruence was expected (increased reading and reaction times, as well as decreased picture selection accuracy for register-context mismatches than matches). An interaction of the two factors was also expected, whereby (in)congruent verb-argument relations could impact the comprehension patterns of (mis)matching register-context relations.

    Analysis: Log transformed reading times for the spillover and critical regions, total sentence reading times and reaction times were analyzed using linear mixed models. Accuracy resulting from picture selections was analyzed with binomial generalized mixed-effects models.

    Results: Verb-argument relation (in)congruency significantly impacted sentence reading in Exp.1 ( = -0.018, SE = 0.007, df = 7655.236, t = -2.502, p < 0.05) and Exp 2. (= −0.029, SE = 0.011, df = 39.176, t = −2.591, p < 0.05). The same pattern was observed for the spillover region (Exp. 1: = -0.130, SE = 0.030, df = 552.306, t = -4.311, p < 0.001, Exp. 2: = -0.144, SE = 0.021, df = 44.477, t = -6.845, p < 0.0001). Moreover, the verb-argument effect was significant for picture selection latencies and accuracy. No significant main effect of register emerged, but participants were less accurate (n.s.) in choosing correct target pictures for register-context mismatches vs. matches (Exp. 1 mean: 42 % vs. 64%, Exp. 2 mean: 38% vs. 62%). Analyses further revealed a significant interaction of register-context congruence with verb-argument relation congruence: Verb-argument mismatches elicited longer reading times than matches in register-context matches, but not mismatches (in the blocked version only).

    Discussion: These analyses revealed effects of verb-argument relation congruence. While register-context congruence effects were absent in reading times, the accuracy results (n.s.) point towards the fact that the processing of social-contextual information might impact late sentence processing. The interaction of the two factors in reading times suggested that the match of a context and target sentence in formality may have served as a “filter” for further grammatical processing of verb-argument relation congruence, i.e., when participants were habituated to the formality of a context (blocked presentation), they were more sensitive to verb-argument relation mismatches.

  • Plesca, Ana-Maria; Maquate, Katja; Knoeferle, Pia  (2022) The interplay of situation-formality register congruence and verb-argument relations  In: CogSci [ViVo]
    The semantic relation between a verb and its argument rapidly impacts language comprehension much like world knowl-edge and the linguistic context (Altmann & Steedman, 1988; Kutas & Hillyard, 1984; McRae et al., 1998). As part of thesocially situated context, register could incrementally modulate comprehension and interact with standard languageknowledge processing. Two self-paced reading experiments with an additional picture selection task examined howsocial-formality contexts and their (mis)matches with register use are comprehended in the presence of verb-argumentsemantic relation (mis)matches. We assessed whether comprehenders can rapidly adapt to shifting situation formality(Exp 2, N=64), or whether they benefit from habituation enabled by blocked presentation of formality (Exp 1, N=64). Wesuccessfully replicated incremental verb-argument (mis)match effects. No significant register effect was found, but theobserved picture selection accuracy patterns could be taken to suggest that the processing of social contextual informa-tion might impact late sentence processing.
  • Plesca, Ana-Maria  (2021) Exploring the interplay between register and verb-argument structure across situation-formality contexts [ViVo]
    Register represents one of the many facets of social and contextual information that could be hypothesized to modulate comprehension, along with higher-level linguistic information, such as a verb’s thematic requirements. The present master thesis encompasses one pilot study, as well as two main experiments with different item presentation modes. Each experiment employed cumulative self-paced reading as primary task, as well as picture selections as a secondary, post-sentence comprehension task. The aim of these studies was to assess the interplay between semantic information resulting from matches, respectively mismatches between social formality contexts and register information, as well as semantic information stemming from correct or incorrect verb-argument relations. 64 participants were anonymously recruited for each of the main experiments and presented with experimental stimuli consisting of a sentence that introduced a social-formality context, as well as with a target sentence that contained the experimental manipulation in form of combinations of register and verb-argument relations matches and mismatches. Their behavioral responses in form of reading and reaction times were analyzed with stateof- the-art linear mixed-effects models, while analyses using generalized linear-mixed effects models were performed on participants’ accuracy measured in the picture selection task. The results yielded significant effects of verb-argument relations on sentence comprehension and reaction times, as well as accuracy of picture selections. However, no significant effects of register were observed as a result of experimental manipulations. Implications of the results will be outlined, as well as potential experimental designs that could be employed to further explore the influence of register information on language comprehension.