Great expectations: Discourse markers of (counter)expectation in incremental sentence processing


This research project investigates the role of expectations in language. Combining insights from theoretical linguistics, psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics, it aims to contribute to bridging between these disciplines to make progress in language research.

During language processing, our brain constantly generates predictions about upcoming words. The generation of expectations is assumed to make communication more efficient: the better an encountered word fits the listener's expectations, the easier it is to process that word. When we produce language, we can linguistically respond to expectations by means of discourse markers (DMs). For instance, when we say Maria is eigenlijk een man 'Maria is actually a man', we use eigenlijk to bindicate that this utterance is not in line with the most plausible expectation that someone called Maria is a woman. In theoretical linguistics, DMs are viewed as conversation managing tools; as such, they are also assumed to make communication more efficient.

This project experimentally investigates this theoretically assumed function of DMs of (counter)expectation. By means of a combination of experimental techniques with a high temporal resolution (eye-tracking and EEG), the applicant will track incremental sentence interpretation, that is, word-by-word sentence processing, during listening. It is hypothesized that, upon hearing a DM of (counter)expectation, listeners' predictions about upcoming words are modulated such that the interpretation of the remainder of the sentence becomes easier. In addition, it is investigated to what extent the facilitating effect of DMs of (counter)expectation on the listener depends on how these DMs are used by the speaker. Listeners are hypothesized to be less prone to cues about expectations of upcoming words if these cues are unreliable.

The intended results will not only contribute to a better understanding of the function of DMs of (counter)expectation in language; they will also provide new insights in the flexibility of the language comprehension system.


Wetenschappelijk artikel





Dr. G. van Bergen

Verbonden aan

Max-Planck-Institut, Max-Planck-Institut für Psycholinguistik


Dr. G. van Bergen, Dr. G. van Bergen


01/12/2014 tot 08/01/2019