The interplay between semantic and phonological constraints during spoken-word comprehension


  • Angèle Brunellière,

    Corresponding author
    1. Université Lille Nord de France, Lille, France
    2. UDL3, Unité de Recherche en Sciences Cognitives et Affectives, Villeneuve d'Acsq, France
    • Address correspondence to: Angèle Brunellière, Unité de Recherche en Sciences Cognitives et Affectives, Université Charles-de-Gaulle Lille 3, Domaine universitaire du Pont de Bois, BP 149, 59653 Villeneuve d'Ascq Cedex, France. E-mail:

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  • Salvador Soto-faraco

    1. ICREA, Barcelona, Spain
    2. Departament de Tecnologies de la Informació i les Comunicacions, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
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  • This research was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (PSI2010-15426 and Consolider INGENIO CSD2007-00012), Comissionat per a Universitats i Recerca del DIUE-Generalitat de Catalunya (SGR2009-092), and the European Research Council (StG-2010263145). ERP analyses were performed with the Cartool software (supported by the Center for Biomedical Imaging of Geneva and Lausanne). We would like to thank Nara Ikumi for her help in constructing and recording the sentences. We also want to thank three anonymous referees and the editor for their useful comments.


This study addresses how top-down predictions driven by phonological and semantic information interact on spoken-word comprehension. To do so, we measured event-related potentials to words embedded in sentences that varied in the degree of semantic constraint (high or low) and in regional accent (congruent or incongruent) with respect to the target word pronunciation. The data showed a negative amplitude shift following phonological mismatch (target pronunciation incongruent with respect to sentence regional accent). Here, we show that this shift is modulated by sentence-level semantic constraints over latencies encompassing auditory (N100) and lexical (N400) components. These findings suggest a fast influence of top-down predictions and the interplay with bottom-up processes at sublexical and lexical levels of analysis.