Lucy J. MacGregor, Martin Corley, David I. Donaldson



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Brain Lang

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Disfluencies can affect language comprehension, but to date, most studies have focused on disfluent pauses such as er. We investigated whether disfluent repetitions in speech have discernible effects on listeners during language comprehension, and whether repetitions affect the linguistic processing of subsequent words in speech in ways which have been previously observed withers. We used event-related potentials (ERPs) to measure participants’ neural responses to disfluent repetitions of words relative to acoustically identical words in fluent contexts, as well as to unpredictable and predictable words that occurred immediately post-disfluency and in fluent utterances. We additionally measured participants’ recognition memories for the predictable and unpredictable words. Repetitions elicited an early onsetting relative positivity (100-400 ms post-stimulus), clearly demonstrating listeners’ sensitivity to the presence of disfluent repetitions. Unpredictable words elicited an N400 effect. Importantly, there was no evidence that this effect, thought to reflect the difficulty of semantically integrating unpredictable compared to predictable words, differed quantitatively between fluent and disfluent utterances. Furthermore there was no evidence that the memorability of words was affected by the presence of a preceding repetition. These findings contrast with previous research which demonstrated an N400 attenuation of, and an increase in memorability for, words that were preceded by an er. However, in a later (600-900 ms) time window, unpredictable words following a repetition elicited a relative positivity. Reanalysis of previous data confirmed the presence of a similar effect following an er. The effect may reflect difficulties in resuming linguistic processing following any disruption to speech.