Dr. Valentina Nicole Pescuma

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Sprach- und literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät

Projects

C03 Situation-register congruence meets morphosyntax and verb-argument violations: Real-time and post-sentence comprehension

Contact

Mohrenstraße 40/41

+49 30 2093 91331

pescumav@hu-berlin.de

Publications & Presentations

    Publications

  • Pescuma, Valentina Nicole; Ronderos, Camilo R.; Ito, Aine; Maquate, Katja; Knoeferle, Pia  (2022) How do formality-register congruence and subject-verb agreement effects unfold during sentence reading? Two eye-tracking pilot studies In: AMLaP 2022 [ViVo]

    While it is well-known that syntactic constraints are rapidly processed (e.g., Hagoort et al., 1999; Pearlmutter et al., 1999), world knowledge (e.g., Ferretti et al., 2001; Troyer & Kutas, 2020) and social context (e.g., Münster & Knoeferle, 2018; Nieuwland & Van Berkum, 2006) are also integrated to resolve ambiguity. Uncovering how context information, such as formality, affects sentence comprehension in real time, and whether and how this interacts with morphosyntactic constraints, can help better understand variability in language processing (e.g., Adger, 2006). We tracked eye movements during sentence reading to investigate: (i) whether context formality-register congruence is rapidly processed; (ii) whether and how sensitivity to formality-register congruence and subject-verb agreement interact during sentence comprehension. We expected rapid, incremental integration costs for mismatches (relative to matches; e.g., Hagoort et al., 2004; Van Berkum et al., 2008), with additive or interactive effects reflecting, respectively, distinct versus shared underlying mechanisms/representations (Hagoort, 2003). We also explored whether variability in perceived formality modulates such effects.

    Methods: In two eye-tracking pilot studies, monolingual German adults (aged 18-31) read 40 critical items interleaved with 56 filler items. Each item (see Table 1) comprised two context sentences conveying a formal or informal situation, followed by a target sentence, which featured an animate subject, a high- or low-register verb (matching or mismatching context formality) and a direct object. In the register-only pilot (N=8), we manipulated formality-register congruence (match vs. mismatch). In the register-by-subject-verb-agreement pilot (N=8), we additionally manipulated subject-verb agreement (match vs. mismatch), such that the verb would be incorrectly inflected, in the infinitive form, in the mismatch conditions. Linear mixed-effects models were fitted to log-transformed first-pass duration, regression path duration, and total reading time at the verb and object (NP2) regions in the target sentence. Average (independent) target and context sentence formality ratings served as covariates; random intercepts were fitted for items and participants.

    Results: In the register-only pilot, as predicted, longer verb total reading times were observed (Fig. 1) for register mismatches (vs. matches, t=-2.05, p=.040, d=-.25), and for higher target sentence formality ratings (t=3.22, p=.001, d=.37; post-verbal effects n.s.). In the register-by-subject-verb-agreement pilot, as expected, verb total reading times (Fig. 2) were longer for subject-verb agreement mismatches (vs. matches, t=-1.98, p=.048, d=-.24); contrary to predictions, total reading times were longer for register-matching verbs (vs. mismatching, t=3.24, p=.001, d=.39; formality rating effects n.s.). In the NP2 region (Fig. 3), we observed first-pass reading effects of subject-verb agreement (t=2.07, p=.038, d=.25), register congruence (t=-2.50, p=.012, d=-.31), and of their interaction (t=2.00, p=.045, d=.25). Finally, longer regression path durations in NP2 regions were observed following agreement mismatching verbs (t=-2.83, p=.005, d=-.35), register-matching verbs (t=2.55, p=.011, d=.31), and as a function of higher context formality ratings (t=2.45, p=.014, d=.29, Fig. 4).

    Conclusions: Effects of formality-register congruence, as well as subject-verb agreement in the second pilot, emerged at a late processing stage in the verb region, and at earlier stages in the object/spillover region (second pilot). While rapid integration of context effects is not fully supported by our findings, when both factors were manipulated, the direction of the register congruence effect was opposite to that predicted. This may suggest an interference between context and subject-verb agreement processing during sentence reading. The ongoing register-by-subject-verb-agreement main experiment, with a larger N (=40) will be presented at the conference, helping to further address these questions.

  • Pescuma, Valentina Nicole; Ronderos, Camilo R.; Ito, Aine; Maquate, Katja; Knoeferle, Pia  (2022) (How) Do Register and Morphosyntactic Congruence Effects Interact during Sentence Reading? Two Eye-Tracking Pilot Studies In: CogSci [ViVo]

    In two eye-tracking pilots during reading, we investigated real-time processing of formality-register congruence and subject-verb morphosyntactic congruence, and their relation. Participants read, in German, two context sentences conveying a formal or informal situation, followed by a target sentence containing a high- or low-register verb (e.g., Engl. transl. ”The policeman detained the activist” vs. ”The policeman grabbed the activist”) which matched or mismatched context formality. The second pilot additionally manipulated subject-verb morphosyntactic congruence (e.g., Engl. transl. ”*The policeman detain the activist”; ”*The policeman grabbed the activist”). We observed main effects of formality-register and morphosyntactic congruence on verb reading times, as well as an interaction effect at the postverbal object noun. Higher degrees of context and target sentence formality resulted in longer reading times. Ongoing investigation will further clarify our pilot findings, which suggest some interference between formality-register and morphosyntactic congruence processing.

  • 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  (2022) Situating language register across the ages, languages, modalities, and cultural aspects: Evidence from complementary methods In: Frontiers in Psychology [DOI] [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.
  • Pescuma, Valentina Nicole; Ronderos, Camilo R.; Ito, Aine; Maquate, Katja; Knoeferle, Pia  (2022) Shared or distinct mechanisms: (How) Do register and subject-verb morphosyntactic congruence effects interact during sentence reading? In: HSP 2022, UC Santa Cruz [ViVo]

    World knowledge can rapidly inform language comprehension (Ferretti et al., 2001; Pearlmutter et al., 1999) and so can social-context information (Nieuwland & Van Berkum, 2006). Other context-related aspects, like formality, may also matter for language variability (e.g., Adger, 2006). We hypothesize that formality can guide the processing time of ‘variants’ of words and grammar (increased for mismatches over matches). For instance, depart might be expected to reference the act of leaving in formal contexts; in less formal exchanges, we might expect to read scoot or scarper (BE). We investigate whether: (i) context formality- register congruence elicits rapid effects; (ii) variability in formality ratings modulates such effects; and (iii) sensitivity to formality-register congruence and to grammar knowledge interact during comprehension. Point (iii) explores additivity versus interactivity of the implicated mechanism and/or representations.

    Methods: In two eye-tracking pilot studies, monolingual German adults read target sentences preceded by two context sentences. 40 critical items were interleaved with 56 filler items (of which 75% were followed by binary comprehension questions). In a register-only pilot (N=8) we manipulated register congruence of context and target sentence (match vs. mismatch, Table 1). In a register-by-morphosyntax pilot (N=8), we additionally manipulated subject- verb morphosyntactic congruence (match vs. mismatch). Linear mixed-effects models were fitted to the log-transformed (exponentially back-transformed for visualization) first-pass duration, regression path duration, and total time at the verb and object (NP2) regions in the target sentence (Table 1). Context and target sentence formality was normed via independent Web-based ratings.

    Results: In the register-only pilot, at the verb region, longer total times (Figure 1) emerged for register mismatches (vs. matches, t=-2.05, p=.040, d=-.25), and for higher target sentence formality ratings (t=3.22, p=.001, d=.37; post-verbal effects n.s.). In the register-by- morphosyntax pilot, we expected that the effect of subject-verb morphosyntactic congruence effect might modulate that of register congruence or that the effects might be additive, reflecting, respectively, shared versus two distinct mechanisms. At the verb region, as expected, total times (Figure 2) were longer for morphosyntactically incongruent (vs. congruent) verbs (t=-1.98, p=.048, d=-.24). For register congruence, contrary to predictions, verb total times were longer for matches (vs. mismatches, t=3.24, p=.001, d=.39; effects of formality ratings n.s.). At the NP2 (spillover) region (Figure 3), the analyses revealed effects of subject-verb morphosyntactic congruence (t=2.07, p=.038, d=.25), register congruence (t=- 2.50, p=.012, d=-.31), as well as of their interaction (t=2.00, p=.045, d=.25). Nouns following a morphosyntactically congruent verb yielded longer first-pass durations in the register match condition, whereas in the register mismatch condition no difference was observed between morphosyntactic matches and mismatches. Finally, longer NP2 regression path durations (Figure 4) were observed following morphosyntactically incongruent verbs (t=-2.83, p=.005, d=-.35), register-congruent verbs (t=2.55, p=.011, d=.31), and as a function of higher average context formality ratings (t=2.45, p=.014, d=.29).

    Preliminary results of both studies suggest that social-context information (register congruence and perceived formality) and grammar knowledge are incrementally integrated during sentence processing. Interestingly, both effects appeared to emerge at a later processing stage in the verb, but at earlier stages in the spillover region (register-by- morphosyntax pilot only). When both factors were manipulated, the direction of the register congruence effect was opposite to that predicted, even when an interaction was not present. Pending replication with a larger N, these findings suggest some degree of interference between the effects of register and morphosyntactic congruence, potentially relying on not entirely distinct cognitive mechanisms.

  • Pescuma, Valentina Nicole; Ronderos, Camilo R.; Ito, Aine; Maquate, Katja; Knoeferle, Pia  (2022) (How) Does Processing of Register and Morphosyntactic Congruence Affect Sentence Comprehension? Two Eye-Tracking Pilot Studies In: IMPRS CONFERENCE 2022 [ViVo]

    In two eye-tracking pilot studies during reading in German, we investigated real-time processing of context formality-register congruence and subject-verb morphosyntactic congruence. While it is known that grammatical violations are rapidly processed, context-related aspects have received less attention. Social-context information, such as formality-register congruence, may indeed matter for the understanding of variability in language processing. We intended to address whether formality information is integrated in real-time sentence comprehension, and to explore whether formality-register congruence processing and morphosyntactic congruence processing rely on shared or distinct mechanisms and representations.
    In both pilots, eight adult participants read pairs of context sentences conveying a formal or informal situation, followed by a target sentence containing a high- or low-register verb (e.g., Engl. transl. “The drunkard defamed the cab driver” vs. “The drunkard blew the whistle on the cab driver”) matching or mismatching context formality. The second pilot additionally manipulated morphosyntactic congruence within the target sentence, with a subject-verb match (as in the examples above) or mismatch (e.g., Engl. transl. “The drunkard *defame the cab driver”; “The drunkard *blow the whistle on the cab driver”). Linear mixed models revealed main effects of formality-register congruence in both pilots. In the register-only pilot, longer verb total times were observed for mismatches (vs. matches, as expected), and for higher average target sentence formality ratings (independently obtained). A less straightforward pattern emerged in the register-by-morphosyntax pilot, with longer total times for matches (vs. mismatches), as opposed to an effect of subject-verb morphosyntactic congruence in the predicted direction (longer times for mismatches vs. matches), suggesting some interference between the two processes. Effects of register and morphosyntactic congruence also emerged at the post-verbal object region. While further investigation with a larger sample size is ongoing, these pilot data suggest that register and morphosyntactic congruence processing may rely on partially shared cognitive mechanisms.

  • Pescuma, Valentina Nicole; Ronderos, Camilo R.; Ito, Aine; Maquate, Katja; Knoeferle, Pia  (2022) An investigation of formality-register congruence and its interplay with morphosyntactic congruence during sentence reading: Two eye-tracking pilot studies In: XPRAG 2022 [ViVo]

    Introduction

    Successful language processing requires integration of different information sources. While this is well-known for syntactic constraints (e.g., Hagoort et al., 1999; Pearlmutter et al., 1999), world knowledge (e.g., Ferretti et al., 2001; Troyer & Kutas, 2020) and social context (e.g., Münster & Knoeferle. 2018; Nieuwland & Van Berkum, 2006) are also rapidly integrated to resolve ambiguity. Uncovering how context-related information, like formality, affects sentence comprehension can help better understand variability in language processing (e.g., Adger, 2006).

    Research questions and hypotheses

    Adopting a broad definition of register as “[...] any language variety defined by its situational characteristics [...]” (Biber, 2009, p. 823), we tracked eye-movements during sentence reading to investigate: (i) whether context formality-register congruence is rapidly processed; (ii) whether and how sensitivity to formality-register congruence and to morphosyntactic congruence interact during sentence comprehension. In line with accounts of context and world knowledge effects (e.g., Hagoort et al., 2004; Van Berkum et al., 2008), we expected rapid and incremental integration costs for formality-register mismatches and morphosyntactic mismatches (vs. matches). Additivity or interactivity of these effects might reflect distinct versus shared underlying mechanisms and representations (see Hagoort, 2003). We also explored whether variability in the degree of perceived formality modulates such incremental effects.

    Methods

    In two eye-tracking pilot studies, we investigated real-time processing of formality-register congruence during sentence reading. Monolingual German adults (aged 18-31) read 40 critical items interleaved with 56 filler items (of which 75% were followed by binary comprehension questions), each comprising two context sentences and a target sentence. Target sentences featured an animate subject (NP1; e.g., Der Polizist, ‘The policeman’), a verb in the past simple (e.g., inhaftierte, ‘detained’, high-register; schnappte, ‘grabbed’, low-register), and a direct object (NP2; e.g., die Aktivistin, ‘the activist’). A pair of context sentences, conveying a formal or informal situation (see examples below), preceded each target sentence, permitting the manipulation of formality-register congruence (match vs. mismatch). Experimental lists were pseudo-randomized according to a Latin square, and blocked by context formality (counterbalanced). In a register-only pilot (N=8), we manipulated formality-register congruence (match vs. mismatch). In a register-by-morphosyntax pilot (N=8), we additionally manipulated subject-verb morphosyntactic congruence (match vs. mismatch), with a target verb in the infinitive (e.g., inhaftieren, schnappen). The first pilot featured two conditions: full match and register mismatch; the second pilot additionally featured morphosyntactic mismatch and full mismatch.

    Example critical item:

    Formal context:Während der gestrigen Ausschreitungen waren die Einsatzkräfte gnadenlos. Die Polizeidirektorin referierte die Rivalität: (‘During yesterday’s riots, the emergency forces were merciless. The police director lectured the rivalry:’).

    Informal context:Bei der Demo gestern war die Stimmung richtig heftig. Die Olle hetzte die Protestler: (‘The atmosphere at the demo yesterday was really intense. The old lady stirred up the protesters:’).

    Target sentence:

    1. High-register verb, subject-verb morphosyntactic match: Der Polizist inhaftierte die Aktivistin. (‘The policeman detained the activist’).
    2. High-register verb, subject-verb morphosyntactic mismatch: Der Polizist inhaftieren die Aktivistin. (‘The policeman *detain the activist’).
    3. Low-register verb, subject-verb morphosyntactic match: Der Polizist schnappte die Aktivistin. (‘The policeman grabbed the activist’).
    4. Low-register verb, subject-verb morphosyntactic mismatch: Der Polizist schnappen die Aktivistin. (‘The policeman *grab the activist’).

    Formality ratings: Through offline Web-based tasks (PCIbex; Zehr & Schwarz, 2018), we assessed the perceived formality of context and target sentences. Monolingual German adults rated stimuli on a scale from 0 (very informal) to 50 (very formal). In the context pretest (N=28), informal sentence pairs received lower ratings (mean=12.4; sd=9.8; median=10) than formal ones (mean=35.5; sd=9; median=36), with an average difference of 23.5 points between conditions. In the target sentence pretest (N=30), low-register target sentences received lower ratings (mean=19.4; sd=11.8; median=18.5) than high-register ones (mean=30.9; sd=10.5; median=32), with an average difference of 11.5 points between conditions. Eye-tracking analysis: Interest regions were defined for NP1, verb, and NP2 in target sentences. Linear mixed-effects models were fitted, using the R package lme4 (Bates et al., 2014), to log-transformed first-pass duration, regression path duration, and total time, in the verb and in the object (NP2) region, where spillover effects might emerge. The predictor was register congruence (sum-coded) in the register-only pilot, and an interaction of register congruence*morphosyntactic congruence (sum-coded) in the register-by-morphosyntax pilot. Average target and context sentence formality ratings served as covariates, and random intercepts were fitted for items and participants.

    Results

    In the register-only pilot, the analyses corroborated the predicted longer total reading times in the verb region (Figure 1) for register mismatches (vs. matches, t=-2.05, p=.040, d=-.25), and for higher target sentence formality ratings (t=3.22, p=.001, d=.37; post-verbal effects n.s.). In the register-by-morphosyntax pilot, we expected that morphosyntactic congruence effects might modulate those of register congruence, or that the effects might be additive. In the verb region, as predicted, total times (Figure 2) were longer for morphosyntactically mismatching (vs. matching) verbs (t=-1.98, p=.048, d=-.24). Contrary to predictions, total times were longer for register-matching verbs (vs. mismatching, t=3.24, p=.001, d=.39; effects of formality ratings n.s.). In the NP2 region, we observed first-pass effects of subject-verb morphosyntactic congruence (t=2.07, p=.038, d=.25), register congruence (t=-2.50, p=.012, d=-.31), and of their interaction (t=2.00, p=.045, d=.25): nouns following a morphosyntactically matching verb received longer first passes in register-match conditions, whereas in register-mismatch conditions no difference emerged between morphosyntactic matches and mismatches. Finally, longer regression path durations in NP2 regions were observed following morphosyntactically mismatching verbs (t=-2.83, p=.005, d=-.35), register-matching verbs (t=2.55, p=.011, d=.31), and as a function of higher context formality ratings (t=2.45, p=.014, d=.29).

    Conclusions: In both pilots, effects of formality-register congruence (and of morphosyntactic congruence, in the second pilot) emerged at a late processing stage in the verb region, and at earlier stages in the object/spillover region (second pilot only). Our current findings, from small samples, do not fully support rapid integration of context effects. Interestingly, when both factors were manipulated, the direction of the register congruence effect was opposite to that predicted. This pattern suggests some interference between social-context and morphosyntactic processing during sentence reading, and their reliance on potentially shared mechanisms. Ongoing replication studies with a larger N (=40) will help further address these questions.