Anne Wienholz, Nuhbalaoglu Derya, Nivedita Mani, Annika Hermman, Edgar Onea, and Markus Steinbach (2018)

Pointing to the right side? An ERP study on anaphora resolution in German sign language


Sign languages use the horizontal plane to refer to discourse referents introduced at referential locations. However, the question remains whether the assignment of discourse referents follows a particular default pattern as recently proposed such that two new discourse referents are respectively assigned to the right (ipsilateral) and left (contralateral) side of (right handed) signers. The present event-related potential study on German Sign Language investigates the hypothesis that signers assign distinct and contrastive referential locations to discourse referents even in the absence of overt localization. By using a semantic mismatch-design, we constructed sentence sets where the second sentence was either consistent or inconsistent with the used pronoun. Semantic mismatch conditions evoked an N400, whereas a contralateral index sign engendered a Phonological Mismatch Negativity. The current study provides supporting evidence that signers are sensitive to the mismatch and make use of a default pattern to assign distinct and contrastive referential locations to discourse referents.

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